The Parable of the Dumb Lawyer

A few years ago I participated in a colloquium at UCLA that included, besides myself, two other academics who studied various aspects of the origins of Christianity, and a lawyer, somewhat unjustifiably famous for battling “religious theists” [sic].  The latter category he habitually referred to as “religion” or “supernaturalism,” which in his head amounted to the same thing.

Lawyer

With a kind of cocksureness that always comes naturally to the malinformed, he told me minutes before delivering his spiel that he welcomed the opportunity to “set these religion scholars straight.”  I muttered something agreeable about the nature of scholarship–always being a willingness to accept correction, though privately I have always thought that Jesus’ words about lawyers are among the wisest things he is ever reckoned to have said.

At the end of his discussion, the three of us sat quietly.  Carol Backhos, a UCLA professor of Judaic Studies, who had kept track of the number of times the speaker had equated religion and supernaturalism in his talk, asked him fairly pointedly what he thought the three of us did to earn a living. Her implication was that if our work corresponded to what he thought we did, we should not be permitted near the gates of a university.

Reuven Firestone, a leading expert on medieval Judaism and Islam, pressed him a bit further, asking whether he could make the distinction between “supernaturalism” as a view of the world that could only have become intelligible in modernity, especially through science, and a view of the world that would not have included it–indeed would have been unintelligible–even to educated people–prior to the “dawn” of science.  He asked especially about Spinoza’s view on the self-contradictoriness of miracles as proof of God, as an illustration.

Baruch

As the hapless panel moderator, my final word was that he (the lawyer) should understand that “providentialim” and “supernaturalism” are useful to historians only in charting superficial descriptions in history, and that all serious historians share a methodological disbelief in ghosts, spirits, fate, kairos, gods and divinities causing anything to happen. Consider, I tamely said, that in Shakespeare’s great tragedy of the name Julius Caesar dies in Act III but is still considered causative  as a literary device until the end: “O Julius Caesar, thou art mighty yet!/ Thy spirit walks abroad, and turns our swords/ In our own proper entrails (5.3.94-96).”  (Most students of historiography know the problem as Caesar’s ghost–explaining something that really happens in terms of forces you know aren’t really there but may be in the minds of people with a different disposition towards cause and effect.) Supernaturalism, I said, is not a word that scholars often use as equivalent to religion in modern study and not even a likely descriptor that a religious person would use about himself.

For different reasons, mainly related to discussions of scientific naturalism as a term in need of an opposite, philosophers sometimes revert to it and an older generation of anthropologists used it “descriptively.” Historians, on the other hand, have been ferociously critical of its use.

E B Tylor: The Bogeyman theory of religion

The lawyer mumbled something unhelpful and sat down, plausibly thinking that the scholars had not learned much about religion from him.

Those of us who teach the study of religion at college level battle two assumptions: first, the assumption of many students that courses in religion are religious–hearkening back to an era of undertrained divinity school-trained lecturers who were very often protestant ministers themselves; and second, the often grotesque ignorance of our colleagues in the academy, and not just in the sciences, about what is actually studied in a religious studies curriculum.  Academic apartheid is another name for what universities call “disciplines.”

I have no statistic to prove the following point, but I would guess that courses bearing the “Religious Studies” label are probably among the least understood in the average college catalogue.  And it isn’t the fault of students or colleagues in other disciplines that this is the case.  Religious studies “professionals” are sometimes the worst spokesmen when it comes to explaining what they are doing in the classroom, inviting the suspicion that they are doing priestcraft and witchery and alchemy instead of more useful subjects. Or perhaps, though I hope not, this reluctance to explain, defend and inform comes from the esoteric nature of religion itself.

Beyond this, some of the best programs in the field, such as the longstanding one at the University of Chicago, share a common designation with the worst, such as the ones at self-described ‘Christian” universities like Liberty in Virginia or Oral Roberts in Oklahoma–and these, alas, are not the worst examples of Christian apologetics masquerading as serious academic study.  Einstein once said of the physics of his generation that “A perfection of means, and confusion of aims, seems to be our main problem.”  In religious studies both the means and the aims are often not made clear.

So who can blame our lawyer friend for being confused?  I sometimes like to say to advanced students taking methodology or historiography courses that religions are morphologically similar and anatomically different. They exhibit common structural features in widely divergent ways. Some have priesthoods, some have brotherhoods, others only monks or congregants, others only inquirers.  They meet in churches, mosques, tents, open fields, temples and not at all. They resound in highly structured public celebrations, ecstatic and emotional outbursts, and total silence. They base their practices on sacred books, private revelations, only conscience, believe in one God, thousands, and none, and produce codes ranging from axioms and laws to questions and puzzles. Some see a complete rift between the world of experience and the world in which a divine spirit suffuses reality.  Some believe these worlds are continuous or periodical.  Some see the natural world as the only world there is.

“In the woods, we return to reason and faith. There I feel that nothing can befal me in life – no disgrace, no calamity (leaving me my eyes) which nature cannot repair. Standing on the bare ground – my head bathed by the blithe air, and uplifted into infinte space, – all mean egoism vanishes. I become a transparent eyeball. I am nothing. I see all. The currents of the universal Being circulate through me; I am a part or particle of God (R. W. Emerson, Nature)

There have been famous attempts to solidify structural points of similarity in religion, notably by scholars like Ninian Smart and anthropologist Clifford Geertz–both of whose contributions are indispensable reading for anyone who really wants to know about the nature of religion at a methodological level.  But the “essence” of religion is notoriously difficult to capture and even harder to describe. A lot of what we do in a first year religious studies course is giggle at definitions proposed by well-intentioned scholars a hundred years ago. Here, to save space, they will be nameless.

Smart thought that religions (“religion” is a less adequate collective noun) express themselves in seven more or less discrete ways which he labeled “dimensions”: experiential, emotional, pratical, ritual, legal, and mythic (or narrative) forms.  By this he simply meant that religions tell stories (myths) that either stem from or result in practices that satisfy an emotional need or moral situation.  In some cases, they claim that this story is rooted in history: Christianity, Judaism, and Islam do this.  In other cases, especially in the Asian traditions, the seminal stories may just be stories–myths whose meaning lay in their ability to form a cohesive community–a church, or some other institutional structure dedicated to propagating the values and teachings of a particular faith. A religion’s success or failure is the aggregate of the way in which the dimensions contribute to its survival.

Ninian Smart

Smart also believed that there were competing worldviews that were not strictly speaking religious but which satisfied the same objectives and exhibited many of the same dimensions.  These secular worldviews included nationalism with its myth of the history of a nation (often highly mythologized for politial purposes over centuries–Roma Aeterna, Mother Russia, Pioneer America, Albion.)  Political and economic philosophies, like Marxism and capitalism, also exhibited many of the same characteristics, especially with respect to the essentially conservative (i.e. tradition-preserving) nature of the institutions and legal systems such philosophies create.

Certain parts of Smart’s “seven-dimensions” seem a bit strained in the contemporary context, but they still represent a useful conceptual entry-level model for coping with the complex characteristics that “religion” exhibits.

Descriptively, the better models were proposed by Clifford Geertz (who died in 2006 at the age of eighty) and whose work on the etiology of culture has been priceless for all areas of the field of religious studies.  Focusing more on family resemblances and what he termed “thick descriptions” (comprehensive analysis of why people do what they do, rather than, as Smart, the fact that they do it), Geertz saw religion and ritual essentially as  “The drive to make sense out of experience, to give it form and order, [something] evidently as real and pressing as the more familiar biological needs…”

Geertz

Any attempt to make sense of the term “religion” after Geertz that does not take the functionalist approach into account, even if it does not depend on it, is simply deficient.  The same would be true of the essential work of Michael Gilsenan (NYU) on Islam, and a former “superior” of mine at Heidelberg, Gerd Theissen on the sociology of early Christian communities. Theissen is especially interesting as an example of a scholar who sees his primary work as that of a theologian trying to grapple with the approaches sociology has imposed upon various inquiries into the beginnings of the Christian church.

I have often complained on this blog about the way in which otherwise well-spoken people such as my lawyer-friend use terms like “religion,” “superstition,” and “supernaturalism” as though the analysis of these terms reached a dead-end in the ninetenth century, when science dethroned theology and the Church seemed not to notice.  In fact religion only began to be understood in the nineteenth century, and science–or rather methods of investigation common to a scientific and skeptical outlook–helped us to do it.

What is less commonly understood is that much of what made the reign of science possible in the first place are theological programs of the eighteenth and nineteenth century (and habits of inquiry that go back much further in time) that cleaned the house of “supernaturalist” thinking in the interest of saving a ship that was sinking in the sea of modernity.  The names, ideas and work of the men and women who participated in that project are almost (but not quite) as deserving of mention as names like Darwin and Faraday.

F D Maurice

I can tell you that it is increasingly embarrassing to see that the ineffectiveness of people in my own field in explaining what they do for a living to people unacquainted with the basic Wissenschaft in religious studies has now resulted in a debate that would be far more interesting if people would update it from 1765 to 2011.  There is simply no excuse for dumb lawyers anymore.

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72 thoughts on “The Parable of the Dumb Lawyer

  1. “The fear of God is not the beginning of wisdom. The fear of God is the death of wisdom. Skepticism and doubt lead to study and investigation, and investigation is the beginning of wisdom. The modern world is the child of doubt and inquiry, as the ancient world was the child of fear and faith.”
    — Clarence Darrow

  2. Lawyers are trained to win their cases, while philosophers supposedly seek the truth.

    Your lawyer friend was arguing a case; he probably expected you to be arguing one too. He may not even grasp that not everyone has a case to argue.

    • i aspire to not argue with any one, take the best and leave the rest. Persuit of truth, yes, indeed, even for a genuine enquirer it can be convenient or otherwise depending on ones agenda. Waste of space.
      It would be in the interests of stability for one to be held accountable for what they espouse.
      Talk is cheep and only too often amounts to little aside from feeding ego centric enterprise

  3. Excellent post! I get pretty frustrated when people who should know better consistently refer to the beliefs of religious people as ‘supernatural’. If anyone refers to them in such a way again, I might do something which will result in me needing a lawyer… and a lawyer may end up causing me to re-offend. Dick the Butcher said ‘let’s kill all the lawyers’…

    • Spoken like a true academic. As far as I know “Supernatural” is not a term of art. Therefore, when used by “people who should know better” to mean religion, one supposes they are not in an academic setting and that their interest is more about communication than etymology. Just saying . . .

      • Herb :) No not really. Supernatural is just not the word to describe the beliefs of religious people at all – it never has been in my environments. It would have been insulting to people of different religious faiths. It’s generally used by people being derogatory about religious beliefs – but it doesn’t actually reflect what those religious beliefs are. It’s insulting to religious people and it seems to be implying that natural is to supernatural as science is to magic. It’s miscommunication and it would be helpful if people criticising religion stopped using it. On the other hand, I think the dreamy surrealist art of those such as Salvidore Dali conveys alot of fantastical and supernatural images. :)

      • It all goes to confirm one of the great psychological insights in the history of the species….Maslow’s Golden Hammer, namely…if the only tool you have to work with is a hammer, everything begins to look like a nail.

    • “Supernatural” from http://wordnetweb.princeton.edu/perl/webwn?s=supernatural:
      ▸ noun: supernatural forces and events and beings collectively (“She doesn’t believe in the supernatural”)
      ▸ adjective: not existing in nature or subject to explanation according to natural laws; not physical or material (“Supernatural forces and occurrences and beings”)

      The term may be taken as derogatory by some religionists, however, based on the definition above, which is more or less the same in the dictionaries I checked, there are circumstances in which its use is entirely appropriate and accurate. Now, I suppose you could use the definition itself without the word, but that would be kinda silly don’t ya think?

      • @ Herb, with all due respect, no one is arguing the word doesn’t have a dictionary definition or a history. The point is about its usefulness as a synonym for religion. Just sayin’…

      • @ Joseph,

        The point is about [supernatural’s] usefulness as a synonym for religion. Just sayin’…

        Its usefulness to who? Academics and theologians? Or the hoi polloi? If the latter had the same “methodological disbelief in ghosts, spirits, fate, kairos, gods and divinities causing anything to happen” as the former do then fundamentalism wouldn’t be the problem that it is in America and the rest of the world.

        Proof? The last survey from the fairly credible, I think, Pew Forum indicates that some 60% of Americans think that their “holy” books are the “Word of God, literally true word for word” (33%) or “Word of God, but not literally true word for word”. In addition their assertion ( Q.39b) that “Angels and demons are active in the world” is completely agreed with by some 40% of the subjects and “mostly agreed” with by a further 28%. No wonder the evangelical historian Mark A. Noll, in his 1994 book, “The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind,” described the situation as an “intellectual disaster” – a train wreck waiting to happen.

        Maybe it’s time that “serious historians” and company realize that what is carrying the rather problematic freight on some seriously rickety tracks is a freight train and not a goods one.

  4. PS Herb :) I should clarify why ‘supernatural’ as a description of belief is insulting to religious people. It is insulting because it is untrue. Alot of religion is even described as ‘secular’ with religious people writing and talking about ‘Secular Christianity’: Christianity without miracles and with a purely human ‘Jesus’. Popular Christian theology includes titles such as ‘Christianity without ‘God”. This exists quietly even in America but only fundamentalisms speak loudly. I wrote a short piece a couple of weeks ago, with examples of religious ideas from written work and conversation with Christians, in order to demonstrate the diversity of religious belief. The term ‘God’ covers all sorts of ideas which have nothing to do with an anthropomorphic existing being, let alone one which interrupts history. For example, Lloyd Geering writes:

    “For me “God” is a useful symbol, inherited from the past, to refer to that meaning, to those values I find to be supreme and to those goals I feel myself called to aspire. So when I say “I believe in God, I mean something like this “God” is the symbol which holds together in a unity all my bits of knowledge about the world and all the virtues I have come to value such as love, justice, compassion.”

    Supernaturalism is inappropriate for a lot of literate religious people because a god who influences the natural order of things is not their view.

    • OK, let me take one more shot at this. I understand, though, that the best way of derailing an otherwise interesting discussion is to devolve into a debate over semantics.

      That said, I live in the bible belt where God and the Supernatural are inseparable. So, when prayers are offered, even by non-fundamentalists, the idea is to ask a supernatural being for a supernatural act to, say, heal the sick, or to keep from dying, or to help win the big game on Saturday night. And, in the absence of any other obvious cause, a “miracle” is seen almost universally as proof of a supernatural act.

      Whether used openly or not, the term is implicit in and understood as part of a belief system shared by literally billions of people around th world. Even we non-believers use it as a qualifier to say what we don’t believe!

      None of us can presuppose what’s in the minds of the religious. But common sense says that the idea of “supernatural” is as ubiquitous and as it is unambiguous. But, those religious folks (both of them) whose beliefs exclude the notion of the supernatural have only to say so and we can go on from there; no parsing, no hair-splitting, we get it.

      So, again, the term may be a subject for inquiry in a scholastic or academic setting, but the average man and woman on the street don’t really give a flip. Religion and the supernatural are inexorably intertwined in their minds. Even the mystics and the spiritualists seek answers that are transcendent and outside the material world. Sure, a few, a very few, might be offended. But, as Clark Gable famously said to Vivien Leigh, “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.”

      • My sympathies with you as always Herb for living in that strange Bible Belty world. But the point is their views don’t reflect the views of religious believers throughout the rest of the world. It’s not a debate about semantics. It just doesn’t describe the religious beliefs of people not in your street. And I do ‘give a damn’ and a ‘flip’ and it’s not about ‘hair-splitting’ to describe things accurately and not impose views on other people that they don’t have. Literate religious people all over the world do not believe in things or gods which influence the natural order of things. That isn’t in their view. The Bible Belt and other places of fundamentalisms aren’t the whole world. It’s not academic – it’s just about living and talking and listening to religious people. I like Ken’s reference to the consequence of only having a hammer as your tool and beginning to think everything looks like nail. It isn’t.

    • Steph, I really don’t understand why you are such an apologist for whatever these religious groups are that don’t believe or have faith in something that a reasonable and literate person would consider supernatural. The only one I can think of is the religion of science. So, please specify the religions you are talking about so that when use religion in the context of the supernatural or any of its synonyms, I can then qualify my remarks by excluding those religions that don’t believe that way and thereby avoid hurting their feelings.

      Anyway, I’ll make you a deal. Most reasonably intelligent, and even minimally educated people, use the terms “sunrise” and ‘sunset,” all the time knowing full well that the sun does neither. The better terms are “dawn” and “dusk.” Come to think of it, sunrise and sunset kind of imply supernatural events, don’t they? So, that would fit in here perfectly, wouldn’t it? Anyway, I think this would be a good project for your Universal Church of Hermeneutics. Hopefully, you won’t offend anybody in the doing.

      • Christianity outside the Bible Belt. All the religious people around me. Religious people in Australia, New Zealand, Great Britain, France, Germany, Denmark… I could go on. Secular Christianity too, which exists all over the world. I’m an apologist for nobody. I’m interested in accuracy. I don’t think ‘science’ is infallible either. I don’t understand why you seem to require ‘specifics’ and literal dogmatic definitions. I don’t understand either why you insist on a term that is about the most unhelpful and inaccurate term I can think of to describe the wide and diverse religious ideas. Non fundamentalist religious people don’t generally define things that way. That’s just it you see – most religious people are either fairly agnostic, or open minded with evolving views. As my views evolve too. We learn and we grow and we change opinions and we tend to avoid dogmatism. I don’t make deals of that sort either and don’t quite see any proposal of a fruitful project. I say ‘sunrise’ and ‘sunset’ and religious people talk about ‘God’ and none of us necessarily have ‘supernatural’ beliefs. And the UCHS is not that sort of church. It’s just a free thinking open worldview, eternally suspicious of all forms of dogmatism. :D

  5. Natural v/s Supnaturalism a perspective from science.
    “As long as we insist on identifying “understanding” with “rational explanation” of the sort familiar in science, we will inevitably end up with (the unexplained). There will always be mystery at the end of the universe. Can we make sense of the universe without (the unexplained)? Is there a route to knowledge – even “ultimate knowledge” – that lies outside the road of rational scientific inquiry and logical reasoning? Many people claim there is. It is called mysticism. Most scientists (as well as Christian theologians) have a deep mistrust of mysticism. This is not surprising, as mystical thought lies at the opposite extreme to rational though. In fact, many of the world’s finest thinkers, including some notable scientists such as Einstein, Pauli, Schrodnger, Haiesnberg, Eddington, and Jeans have all espoused mystecism. We are barred from ultimate knowledge, from ultimate explanation, by the very rules of reasoning that prompt us to seek such an explanation in the first place. If we are to progress beyond, we have to embrace a different concept of “understanding” from that of rational explanation. Possibility the mystical path is a way to such understanding. Maybe such expeiences provide the only route beyond the limits to which science and philosophyncan take us, the only route possile path to the Ultimate.

    • The last two paragraphs of The Mind of God by Paul Davies.
      “- – through science, we human beings are able to grasp at least some of nature’s secrets. We have cracked part of the cosmic code. Why this should be, just why Homo sapiens should cary the spark of rationality that provides the key to the universe, is a deep enigma. We, who are children of the universe – animated stardust – can nevertheless reflect on the nature of that same universe, even to the extent of glimpsing the rules on which it runs. How we have become linked into this cosmic dimension is a mystery. Yet the linkage cannot be denied
      What does it mean? What is Man that we might be party to such privilege? I cannot believe that our existence in this universe is a mere quirk of fate, an accident of history, an incidential blip in the great drama. Our involvement is too intimate. The physical species Homo may count for nothing, but the existence of a mind on some planet in the unoiverse is surely a fact of fundamental significance. Through conscious beings the universe has generated consciousness. This can be no trivial detail. no minor byproduct of mindless, purposeless forces. We are truly meant to be here.”

  6. Supernaturalism is alive and well for me as per usual, there being more in heaven and on earth that a mortal mind can digest and hold in a singular moment. Directing attention to the phenomena to Edgar Cayce who’m I understand to have emited (via collective conciousness relatively untainted proof devoid of the influences of egocentric aspirations. How grand might one facilitate them selves to be by their own effort ? Academia and what ever other instrument comes to little with regard to aspirations in the grand scheme of things

    • Can I recommend three books, one a classic, one ok, the other risible. In philosophical terms, Whitehead’s Science and the Modern World * Process and Reality is still worth a read. I have never bought into process philosophy per se, but D R Griffin’s Re-enchantment without Supernaturalism at least drags the term under the magnifying glass, and showing its age badly in the light of modern anthropology and enlarged studie sof reality is Kurt Segilmann’s 1969 Magic, Superaturalism and Religion. I think it is is hard to contradict the notion that supernaturalism as a term is a reductio ad absurdum for many people who dislike religion. In polemic, I don’t think I have any firm objection to its use. In analysis, I do. I haven’t yet read a book I ordered about a month ago, the author Upton Sinclair’s The Profits of Religion: A Study of Supernaturalism as a Source of Income and a Shield to Privilege (1947). It sounds sexy and seems to reflect the Tendenz I’m describing.

  7. Ooops! A comment intended as a follow-up to my June 11 commen was mistakenly posted on Philosophys Search for the Immutable.
    I have no explanation for this – an old age quirk.
    Thanks Joe,your comment is of specal interest.

  8. Steph, Steph, Steph, what are we going to do with you? I asked you to list those religions that have beliefs which do not include anything that remotely smacks of the supernatural, and you give me a list of countries where religion is less dominate than here in the U.S. You want accuracy, but then you don’t deliver.

    And that takes us back to the semantic wrestling mat, trying to come up with acceptable meanings for “God,” “Supreme Being,” “Afterlife,” “Spirituality,” and even “Religion” itself, and whether any of those terms can be reasonably construed to include the concept of something like “Supernatural.” But, I think, or at least I hope, that ship has already sailed.

    Also, I never insisted on using “literal dogmatic definitions.” That is your characterization. On the contrary, one of your earlier comments was, “Supernatural is just not the word to describe the beliefs of religious people at all – it never has been in my environments. It would have been insulting to people of different religious faiths.” Well, that is your opinion and I respect that, but please don’t tell me what words I should or should not use in the context of religion. I hope you would respect me in that regard. Disagreement I can handle. Disapproval I won’t stand for.

    You say, “most religious people are either fairly agnostic, or open minded with evolving views.” My response here is that, if true, then they are no longer “religious” people and they shouldn’t be using that label because it’s misleading and, in your world, inaccurate. Speaking of which, the terms “sunset” and “sunrise” are also inaccurate, antiquated, dogmatic even.

    Anyway, we can just agree to disagree and move on. If we keep this up Dr. H will probably start hitting us with a surcharge for taking up so much of his cyberspace.

  9. Herb and Steph:
    You are talking past each other.

    Herb is talking about the literal content of religious beliefs: for example, the belief that there is a Being called God and that God is loving.

    Steph is talking about the way most religious people, outside the Bible belt where Herb resides (and outside Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, too, I imagine) hold those beliefs: not literally, agnostically, with a certain skepticism, as metaphors, etc.

    • I don’t know who the ‘we’ is that doesn’t know what ‘to do’ with me. But I agree with Joe that it’s about it’s usefulness as a synonym for religion and I know that Herb is talking about religion in his American environment, particularly the Bible Belt, and I have been trying to make it clear that religion in the rest of the world is not like it is there. There is no list of religions because all these religious ideas fall quite comfortably under the general category of Christianity and even Judaism. And yes Sam, you’re absolutely right :-)

  10. I should add that while I’m not in favour of ridicule, the term specifically used in relationship to Bible Belty fundamentalisms is no more objectionable than those fundamentalisms. Used polemically there, is not my concern. However the term applied to religious believers in the rest of the western world is the same sort of thing as calling apples, oranges. When we refer to sunrise and sunset, everybody understands what we mean so it’s not a useful analogy, to illustrate the use of a term which leads to the opposite: complete misunderstanding of religious views throughout the rest of the western world.

  11. Actually, most of the religious people whom I know in Chile and in the U.S., generally Jews and Catholics, are similar to those Steph mentions: if you question them about the content of their beliefs, they are almost agnostics.

    I even taught English once to a group of Chilean, Dutch, and Spanish monks here in Chile, and when I asked them if they “really believed” in some key tenets of Catholicism, Virgin Birth, transubstantiation, they got vague and began to talk about metaphors.

    However, I would say that all of my contacts are with educated people, and I’m not at all sure how literally the mass of less educated Catholics see the religious doctrines of the church.

    The Jews I know are Reform or Conservative Jews or completely non-affiliated; and the Catholics are social Catholics: that is, they get baptised and married in Church, as well as holding funerals there. They may even send their children to Catholic schools, but when pressed as to what they believe, they often turn out to be deists or pantheists or agnostics. They certainly do not accept Church doctrine about birth control, homosexuality and abortion.

  12. Well, as much as I would like to see this little debate die a merciful death, there are some comments that I must respond to. First and foremost, to say that my understanding of religion is limited to my Christian fundamentalist neighbors is as absurd as it is insulting. As a Humanist, I have spent more time than I would have liked learning about cultures around the world and the religious beliefs within those cultures. But whether your experience is with those who say they are religious, yet have no belief in something supernatural, or whether my experience is with the God-fearing fundies, those positions are irrelevant. We’re talking big picture here, not the stuff out there in the margins.

    So, if the core belief of any religion is conditioned upon some aspect of supernaturalism, then that religion, by definition, can be accurately referred to as one which believes in the supernatural. They would include Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and any other religion where the belief system involves some force beyond scientific understanding or the laws of nature This is not about believers, this is about beliefs. It makes no difference if certain individuals within those religions have doubts about that belief. The religion itself is not changed by those views. Thereby, “secular religion” is an oxymoron.

    And to say that the use of the term supernatural, “leads to the opposite: complete misunderstanding of religious views throughout the rest of the western world” is nonsensical on its face and comes off as little more than insolent hubris. If you want to change the meaning of words to fit your opinion, then your complaint is not with me; it should be aimed at the nice folks at the OED or some similar authority.

  13. Joe and Steph, however aware you may be of Paul Davies’ The Mind of God, I challenge you both to read again as if for the first time its last two paragraphs, posted above as comment June 13, 10:12 pm (the missplaced comment) as a followup to my June 11th comment. For me it is an irresistibly compelling argument. “- – as long as we insist on identifying “understanding” with “rational explanation” of the sort familiar in science, we will inevitably (yet) end up with the unexplained. We are barred from ultimate knowledge, from ultimate explanation, by the very rules of reasoning that prompt us to seek such knowledge in the first place. If we wish to rogreess beyond, we have to embrace a different concept of “undedrstanding” from that of rational explanation. Possibly the mystical path is a way to such understanding. Maybe mystical experience provides the only route beyond the limits to which science and philosohy can take us, the only possible path to the Ultimate.

    • Thank you Ed. It’s always nice to read Paul Davies again. I still remember reading him for the very first time. I ‘scored’ that title in an auctioned box of books when I was setting up a second hand book shop and it was almost brand new. I read it pretty much from cover to cover without putting it down as far as I remember.

      • Steph, but I am forced to raise the concern that your response: “Its always nice to read Paul Davies again” fails to indicate the stark either /or implications of his conclusion: “the universe is no minor byproduct of mindless. purposless forces. We are truly meant to be here” must constitute an unaviodable, irrefutable fact for any free thinker, however fixed one may be to his secular bias, to force the admission as fact that the source and organization of the cosmos is controled by a superintelligence who guides its evolution through quantum prosessses – a diesists understanding of existence. A necessary a proiri belief before one might begin the practice of mystisism which can be learned only by a profound change in consciousness – from a consciousness already conditioned by the habits of sense perceived reality – to proceed from believing to “knowing” – Ultimate knowledge.

      • Ed, in re your comments on Paul Davies, I’m always leery when I see words like “mindless” and “purposeless.” These are human attributes often projected on the universe or any object of scientific study. It is the “Strong Anthropic “Principle,” which says the universe must have properties that allow humans (sometimes called “intelligent life”) to observe it. But, this argument is fallacious in a number of ways. From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anthropic_principle#Criticisms, “Stephen Jay Gould, Michael Shermer and others claim that the stronger versions of the Anthropic Principle seem to reverse known causes and effects. Gould compared the claim that the universe is fine-tuned for the benefit of our kind of life to saying that sausages were made long and narrow so that they could fit into modern hotdog buns, or saying that ships had been invented to house barnacles. These critics cite the vast physical, fossil, genetic, and other biological evidence consistent with life having been fine-tuned through natural selection to adapt to the physical and geophysical environment in which life exists. Life appears to have adapted to physics, and not vice versa.” In short, the universe doesn’t need laws, people do.

      • I don’t see the evidence for this as an irrefutable fact. I just appreciate his ideas Ed. I think I’m free to do that and free to appreciate other ideas :)

  14. I have to side with Herb here. I come from a Catholic family, all of whom subscribe to supernatural beliefs–ghosts, spirits, the afterlife, etc–not all of the above, but some combination thereof. I have a friend who seemed to subscribe to the naturalistic type of religion you describe, but I sent him a link that set him off (I’m still not sure why), and he sent me a five page screed, with lots of caps, that was a litany of supernatural beliefs.

    I suspect that when you approach believers with the advisory that you are a student of religion, they shut up and go with the flow. They say what they think you want to hear, because their supernatural beliefs are indefensible by all rational and empirical means, and it requires a certain aggression and arrogance to push the point to someone who disagrees. These are not things they share with non-believers. And I say this as someone who was a believer less that ten years ago. Supernatural beliefs are guilty secrets, to be shared with the guilty. For an atheist to hear about these, you have to catch them angry, drunk, or off-guard. And beware of confirmation bias–what you hear may not be what they are saying, much less what they mean. In many cases I find that you have to discern what they actually think by implication, not by direct proposition, and narrowing it down requires indirect questions. A strong attachment to mind-body dualism, for example, almost always signals an attachment to spiritualism or idealism, both of which are forms of supernaturalism (usually because most people have no conception of information theory–or even know that it exists!)

    In general. supernaturalism persists because most people rely on folk science and have a drastically reductionistic view of naturalism. I think that supernaturalism is the default position and naturalism the rare exception, and most people paper this up with various religions, new age beliefs, or ideologies. I would love to be proven wrong, but I suspect that the 12 to 15% for atheists in America represents the real number of people who are naturalists.

  15. Recent research, surveys and writing, suggests that people who believed and leave their ‘faith’ often assume other believers believe what they did. I tend to follow argument and evidence and let my own ideas and conclusions evolve as I continue inquiry with real people and groups. I dare say what you ‘suspect’ or suppose is right for some of America, but not everyone fits into boxes, although all chocolates do and if they don’t special boxes can be made for them to fit into. With people we have individual consciences which when educated, grow and lead to evolving ideas, skepticism and agnosticism. Science doesn’t answer all questions but religious people do not always reject what science continually helps us to understand. Research reveals throughout the world that religious believers do not all believe in ‘supernaturalism’. Ministers of churches do not all preach as if the Bible is literally true, and promote no more than good living and good values some of these are attributed to a man called Jesus. It’s fine to assume but I suggest its unwise, and unhelpful to impose what you believed on the rest of the world because that would be incorrect. My experience of American Christianity is so limited I haven’t included it but my experience and research in other western countries doesn’t reflect the popular concept of American Christianity at all. While I have never been religious or ‘believed’ in anything (except that nature is more honest than humanity, and that I’ve learned rather than just assumed without experience or evidence), involvement with religious communities and research analysis reveals that relgious belief evolves and literacy and reason lead to most religious believers having diverse ideas, none of which interferes with the natural order of the universe. All religious people I know believe in evolution. And luckily so many people all over the world, understand the concept of evolution in lateral ways. I like the thought of chocolates but I don’t eat them – they’re all the same. Too sweet.

    • Well, I guess I can scratch “Send chocolates to Steph” off my list. Anyway, like you, I don’t like boxes either, especially the metaphorical kind. And, neither do I like being boxed in; a.k.a., locked in. But, metaphorical boxes are useful as a starting point; a collection of ideas that seem to fit better in one box than another. So, when the ideas change so much that they no longer fit the box, then another box is needed.

      For example, in the beginning there were all these Christians trying to squeeze into one big box. But soon they were split into two boxes, one for the Roman Catholics and one for the Eastern Orthodox. Then along come Martin Luther and John Calvin who created a couple of boxes for those who protested against the Catholics. And, let’s not forget King Henry the 8th who said FU to the Catholic pope for interfering with his marriage plans, then immediately began building a box for the Church of England, while burning down the Catholic boxes that were in England at the time. And on and on it goes, with a more or less similar moving and making of boxes in the Eastern religions, and perhaps the African religions as well.

      Point being that when ideas change so much that the old box no longer fits, then another, better fitting box is built. But there is a difference between a box of beliefs and the individual beliefs of those in the box. So, if I see a box named St. Patrick’s Cathedral, I can reasonably assume that this is where the Catholics hang out. Further, I can also safely assume that the parishioners follow, you know, the Catholic beliefs. If they didn’t, then it is also reasonable to ponder why they are members of that church in the first place. Like, if I go to a Ford car dealer anywhere in the world, I would expect to see Fords all over the lot. Now, if I go to a Ford dealership that has nothing but Toyotas, then I get a bad case of cognitive dissonance and my head explodes. Same thing with religions.

      Now, I don’t like polls, I think they come after statistics in their lack of veracity, but one of interest here is at http://www.ipsos-na.com/news-polls/pressrelease.aspx?id=5217. The headline reads, “Belief in Supreme Being(s) and Afterlife Accepted By Half (51%) of Citizens in 23 Country Survey, But Only 28% Are ‘Creationists.’” If valid, this suggests that, at least for the 23 countries involved, I am more than half right (by one percentage point) and justified when I apply the term supernatural (the afterlife being an unnatural state) to both religions and the religious. There is much more in the article of course. I recommend you read it.

      • The messenger is Joe. I would never shoot Joe. The message was clear. ‘Supernaturalism’ isn’t a useful synonym for religion. I read your ‘article’. It wasn’t useful or helpful and didn’t contradict the message. Apart from severe limitations in your ‘article’ it was very simplistic. I recommend you read this parable above on dumb lawyers. Perhaps read a former post too, on “Anachronism”. I suggest you read some of the comments above. Read the comment, for example, by S.W. (Sam or Amos or someone else) above: “…question them about the content of their beliefs, they are almost agnostics.” That is the point. Ask religious people if they believe in God, they’ll probably say yes. But when you prod them about what ‘God’ means to them, that is when you begin to learn what people believe. Or don’t believe. Read his comment further: He taught English once to a group of Chilean, Dutch, and Spanish monks in Chile, and when he asked them if they “really believed” in some key tenets of Catholicism, Virgin Birth, transubstantiation, “they got vague and began to talk about metaphors.” And all cowboys with beef drink Scotch so that’s not surprising.

    • OK, class, let’s review:

      1. The comment that, “‘Supernaturalism’ isn’t a useful synonym for religion,” is, as I have stated many times here, just your opinion. I have never equated religion with supernaturalism
      You don’t agree, fine. You agreement is not required.

      2. I also tried to point out several times that most of the disagreement here is about a simple definition of terms. I provided some, you provided none. Since you have provided none, I can only assume you agree with mine. In that case my arguments withstand the scrutiny of logic, making yours fatally flawed.

      3. I did reread the article in this post. It derives, as I’ve also already said, in the context of scholarship and academia. I can’t name names, but I think it is a safe bet to say that some other scholars and academics in this field would disagree. And Dr, Hoffmann’s articles, all of them, are also mere opinion; informed opinion, wonderfully written opinions, but opinion nonetheless. Disagreements happen.

      4. I’m not surprised that you said the article I referred you to, “wasn’t useful or helpful and didn’t contradict the message.” After all, talking to some people in a classroom in Chile, along with like-minded friends and colleagues has got to be more reliable than a scientifically valid poll conducted by an internationally respected public research firm, right? And you know what’s in the minds of the respondents, right? Wow! You also apparently failed to notice that the poll covered believers and nonbelievers alike. Had it been directed only at the religionists, there would have been a much higher percentage of respondents who would agree to the supernaturalism of their beliefs. In fact, such polls exist, but there is obviously no point in dredging them up here since your mind is aleardy made up on the issue. (Seems like such extreme bias would be a severe handicap in the world of research. But I’m just an Oklahoma hick, so what do I know.)

      In any case, I’m done here. I’ve got other projects that need my energy. But, if you ever decide to leave the planet you’re living on and come back down to earth, let me know.

      p.s., You even got the “all cowboys with beef drink Scotch” wrong. They drink good ‘ol American corn mash liquor – Bourbon!

  16. I said ‘ask religious believers if they believe in God’, and you deduce from that that I think that the poll didn’t include non believers as well? What an extraordinary leap. But in any case you miss the point – simple questions receive simple answers. The answers and these have not been analysed. Analysis involves further questioning about what is meant by the simple answers, ie what “God” means to each person who said yes they believed in God. And there is not just one single simple definition for “God”. But it has all been exceptionally … but then I’ve never quite understood American new atheist language. Enjoy your poison whatever it is, and I’ll stick to mine which is usually gin on my planet.

    • Word?! An American expression meaning what? It isn’t really American new atheist language I don’t understand, although I find its rudeness astonishing, but you seem to have absorbed an American new atheist concept of language and logic which is equivalent to the simplistic fundamentalist view of language and logic which ignores the usage of people outside their own social group, and interprets social surveys as if everyone surveyed with simple questions must have understood all the terms in the survey in the same way. Have you not noticed that American new atheists are almost all former fundamentalists, or that the American view of language is more literalistic than that in the rest of the world?

  17. Reply to Steph’s June 15, 2:52 pm comment.
    Apologies, I get carried away as a long time believer. Facts relate to “rational expalnation” by which God notions can be no more than opinion, beliefs. Certainly you are free to only appreciate Davies as you appreciate other ideas, keeping an open mind. Surely the validity and authority of ideas are judged by the intelectual level and integrity of the thinker. Davies ideas for me in this sence are particularily compelling and convincing, characteristic of those who can be identified as the world’s greatest physicists, all of whom believed that both science and religion, physics and spirituality, were necessary for a complete and integral approach to reality..

    • Ed:

      Never apologize. That shows weakness and is a sign that you acknowledge that others may be right and you may be wrong or that others may be partially right and you may be partially wrong and that those who disagree with you are not despicable insects who should be laughed at, scorned and then crushed with all the weight of scientific certainty.

      • Amos :-) I never contradicted Ed, and he had no need to apologise to me. Thank you Ed, for that clear expression of your faith whichI do appreciate. It’s more a reflection on my own intellectual limitations that I absorb so many alternative insights without reaching any absolutes myself. And living in this reality of beauty and despair, I would like to share faith in an ultimate reality but I don’t. Often I wish I could remove myself further from current realities and ‘go bush by the sea’ where nature is the only pure reality that exists to my physical senses.

  18. Hmmmm….betting the lawyer was E. Tabash. You can get a ways with argument by abduction ( C.S Peirce by way of Billy of Ockham), but only so far as it is applied best in a courtroom, but falls flat when the simplest argument just won’t cut the cake (or pour the wine).

  19. As I see it, one should, to be entirely accurate, not equate ‘religion’ with ‘supernaturalism’. Having said that, in the context of when it is used, it is, IMO, a valid approximation, in the sense that what it is being used to describe is ‘supernaturalist religion’, which is probably a fuller and more accurate term.

    Will I now start to use ‘supernaturalist religion’ instead of ‘religion’. Hm. I might, but typing with one finger as I do, I might approximate, and reserve longer terminology for the exceptions, as in when I specifically mean ‘non-supernaturalist religion’, or should hat be ‘naturalist religion’? :)

    • Having said that, in the context of when it is used, it is, IMO, a valid approximation, in the sense that what it is being used to describe is ‘supernaturalist religion’, which is probably a fuller and more accurate term.

      Yes – quite agree. And that is more or less along the line of my last post in this thread where I pointed out that, at least in America, over 60% of the religious have a decidedly ‘supernaturalist’ bent to their religion. And on that basis I expect that of the 2 billion world-wide adherents of Christianity and Islam that figure of 60% is likely to be on the low side. And, in addition, all of the folk and animist religions of India and China have some decidedly supernatural aspects to them. Apropos of which, Ibn Warraq in his Why I Am Not a Muslim [which Joseph wrote the Foreword to] quotes Salman Rushdie, as does Dawkins in The God Delusion, on the occasion of, I think, one particularly egregious massacre or another as follows:

      Religion, as ever, is the poison in India’s blood

      And all of that would seem to entirely justify your argument that the “longer terminology” should be reserved for the exceptions: ‘religion’ is largely supernatural clap-trap. Seems to me that, with all due respect, far too many, although not all, of the religious academics have been cooped-up in the ivory tower (“Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair”) for far too long and need to get out into the “real world” and see the problematic and nitty-gritty interpretations and consequences of ‘religion’ that are held and produced by the majority of their fellow citizens.

      • To provide an umbrella of “supernaturalism” ignores the history and complexity of religious tradition. It doesn’t take into account the evolution of religious thought and belief and understanding of the historical cultural context of identity, storytelling and teaching, and it ignores the fact that many modern religious people in some parts of the world have evolved and do not hold beliefs, like “ghosts, spirits, fate, kairos, gods and divinities causing anything to happen”, which contradict the evidence of science.

      • Steph’s point is significant: Realizing that our western paradigm is crucial does not mean it is sufficient. I am not defending witch doctors and shamans, but only saying that science concerns itself (and this is perfectly natural) with a certain kind of truth. It may be the case that knowing how the world works is the only truth there is; but I have read the Meno too many times to buy that. I celebrate our ability to figure things out. Socrates marveled at the ability of a slave, with no degree in Physics, to figure things out. Not trying to be obscure, but I think you get the point that the ability to generate information, data and solutions does not constitute the whole of knowledge–and I know that neither of you gents would argue such a conclusion. Carry on. I am enjoying listening.

      • Steph,

        To provide an umbrella of “supernaturalism” ignores the history and complexity of religious tradition.

        One might suggest, to coin a phrase, that you are “going to extremes to misrepresent me” – I said “religion is largely supernatural clap-trap” and I’ve said in, probably, a dozen or more posts here that “religion” has made significant contributions in our cultural evolution and, in its more non-literal manifestations, continues to provide significant value – at least advantages that might outweigh the disadvantages.

        … it ignores the fact that many modern religious people in some parts of the world have evolved and do not hold beliefs, like “ghosts, spirits, fate, kairos, gods ….

        Yes, and I’ve quoted chapter and verse in the various surveys that strongly suggests or proves that most do, yet you seem to completely ignore them which suggests some bias. If you have 100 people who are religious and 70 of them are “supernaturalists” and 30 of them are “metaphorists” or “mythists” or “non-literalists” – as seems essentially the case – then it is quite true that, as you say, many of them are of each type. But the most important point is, I think, that most are the supernaturalists who cause the most problems – it is then somewhat disingenuous, at best, to talk of the “many” who might be lukewarm when the “most” are threatening to burn down your house. And if the latter 3 classes wind up enabling or condoning the actions of the first one then one might reasonably argue that they are more a part of the problem than of the solution.

        I sort of get the impression that you, and maybe Joseph to a lesser extent taking into account his Foreword to Why I Am Not a Muslim, wish to paint all of religion in the rosy hues of “identity and storytelling and teaching” which is simply not at all accurate – not to mention that there is a dark side to each of those. But at some point it frequently becomes necessary from a pragmatic utilitarian point of view – the “grim meat-hook realities” of John D. MacDonald – to separate the wheat from the chaff particularly in light of the preponderance of the latter and its rather poisonous nature; to realize that regardless of whether Hitler loved his mother or not he was still a monster who had to be destroyed one way or another. It might be nice if we can retain the better features of religion – Dawkins notes that we learn, and learn from, the legends of the Greek and Roman gods without being asked to believe them – but that seems to be a hard lesson for us to learn.

      • Joseph,

        Realizing that our western paradigm is crucial does not mean it is sufficient.

        That might well be the case although that does tend to beget the questions of precisely what is understood by “paradigm” and what is meant by “sufficient” – and to what ends? Although I’ll readily concede – genuflecting to Gödel’s Proof (the limits of formal systems of logic) – that it is quite likely that no paradigm is sufficient – rules of thumb at best.

        I am not defending witch doctors and shamans, but only saying that science concerns itself (and this is perfectly natural) with a certain kind of truth.

        You have, no doubt, run across some detailed if acrimonious discussions recently on various websites, blogs and on-line newspapers on the question of The Humanities, the Sciences and Ways of Knowing (the title of a Choice in Dying post on the topic) related to Gould’s “non-overlapping magisteria” [NOMA]. But I feel, and have argued on that site and others, that that is somewhat of a false dichotomy, that it ignores the basic fact that we all – scientists and historians and plumbers and philosophers and architects and librarians: virtually every classification in society – use, apparently, the same basic “toolkits” composed, largely, of both inductive and deductive reasoning or, somewhat equivalently, hypothesis generation and testing – to a greater or lesser extent depending on training and discipline. It is just that “science” per se has formalized and defined those tools fairly precisely and accurately through mathematics which has allowed it, somewhat unreasonably and inaccurately, to assert that “other ways of knowing” are largely without value – simply because it, largely or in many cases, is unable to see the common threads and processes.

        For instance, I’ve briefly read your recent post on Galatians 4 and I would say that it quite reasonably qualifies as an exercise in science – at least to the extent science is defined as a “systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the universe”. As the British biologist and Nobel Laureate P.B. Medawar put it in his Two Conceptions of Science essay in his book titled The Art of the Soluble:

        … we may collect and classify facts, we may marvel at curiosities and idly wonder what accounts for them, but the activity that is characteristically scientific begins with an explanatory conjecture which at once becomes the subject of an energetic critical analysis. It is an instance of a far more general stratagem that underlies every enlargement of a general understanding and every new solution of the problem of finding our way about the world. [pg 153]

        By which token one could say that Galatians 4 consists of a hypothesis or “explanatory conjecture” – and a counter one from the mythtics – followed up by some detailed deductions based on various facts of varying degrees of credibility and on certain assumptions and rules of inference about human nature. It might be nice if each “theory” built on their respective hypotheses could make some predictions about something that isn’t currently known and that might follow – the gold standard of a credible or useful “scientific” theory – if the hypothesis were true that could be tested – sort of an “X marks the spot” and on digging at which yields the expected treasure.

        But that false dichotomy is, I think, quite problematic as it tends to give a free ride to various hypotheses – from both science per se (evolutionary psychology) and the humanities (theology) – that are really little more than “just-so stories”: heavy on the hypothesizing, but very light on the deductive and empirical testing. Society is, I think, not well served by that.

        It may be the case that knowing how the world works is the only truth there is; but I have read the Meno too many times to buy that.

        Not having read it at all I am obliged to rely on Wikipedia for the “Coles Notes” version. But, while my understanding of epistemology is rudimentary at best – or certainly not formalized, it seems to me that the paradox – “a man cannot search either for what he knows or for what he does not know” – has been more or less superseded or invalidated by the evolution of our understanding of science. For example, one might see some indistinct object on the horizon – it could be a car or a man moving or a mirage – such that one does not know precisely what it is. But by using some binoculars one has searched for and found what one did not know. Although I’ll concede that there still might be some things for which no sensory apparatus can be designed which will reveal its existence or attributes. But if they have no influence on our senses then they, in effect to all or virtually all intents and purposes, simply don’t exist.

        Not trying to be obscure, but I think you get the point that the ability to generate information, data and solutions does not constitute the whole of knowledge ….

        Does your Galatians 4 not constitute a “generation of information, data and solutions”? By itself it, of course, is only a single case and hardly constitutes the whole of knowledge. But, one might argue, as Medawar in effect argues, that the “same imaginative and critical acts” that you used there which “unite to form the hypothetico-deductive method” are the same ones used by every other “scientist” – to a greater or lesser degree and effect – to generate information, data and solutions.

        While I might be guilty of trying to shoehorn all ways of acquiring knowledge into that “hypothetico-deductive” method – and there might well be ways other than that one, it certainly seems to me to cover a lot of ground – not to mention providing a bit of a bridge between C.P. Snow’s Two Cultures.

      • No Steersman. It’s taking into account years of reading across disciplines, research, and experience with many different cultures, communities and individual belief and practice.

      • Steph,

        So. You completely reject the statistical conclusions of the Pew Forum that I quoted earlier? That close to 90% of all Muslims in America see their “holy” book as, more or less, the “Word of God, literally true word for word” which is quite likely to hold throughout the world? Parenthetically, ever read Ibn Warraq’s Why I Am Not a Muslim?

        That looks rather akin to “don’t confuse me with facts; my mind is made up” and seriously anti-intellectual and seriously obstinate – to say the least.

      • Yes of course I’ve read Why I am not a Muslim, including alot more scholarship from around the world. I know the American Pew Forum statistics and fundamentalism in America and the environment Muslims live in in America. I am also well aware of Islam in Islamic states and Islam in secular society, assimilation, history and evolution and interfaith discussions and I also know about the simplicity of polls and their questions, and how they’re interpreted literally. I know anthropological and sociological field research and analysis of belief and practise around the globe. You’ve ignored the fact that I take into account other religions and other parts of the world. This is all taken into account to explain the uselessness of the term ‘supernatural’ as a synonym for religion. Steersman, I’m not interested in discussion with you. That’s the realm for you and John Mills.

      • Steph,

        You still haven’t answered my question: do you or do you not reject the Pew Forum statistics that I quoted? Yes or no?

        Getting you to answer a simple question is like the proverbially pulling teeth.

        Can’t say that we’re having much of discussion considering the above.

        But “supernaturalism” seems to be a perfectly reasonable description of “religion” as it is practiced by the majority of the people in the world. Notwithstanding all of your “sociological field research”.

      • My goodness you’re quick. You must be always close to your keyboard. Of course I don’t ‘reject’ the poll of which I was already aware of or other polls. I always take these things into account. And no, it is not an appropriate synonym for religion for the many reasons I have outlined.

      • Steph,

        Little difficult to see how you can not reject that poll, how you can accept that poll – which concludes, more or less, that religion in America is largely supernaturalism – and still continue to insist otherwise, that “supernaturalism” is not an accurate label or descriptive term.

        But I guess you’re better than I in believing in impossible things (A and not A) – either before or after breakfast.

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