Archive | April 2011

The Moral Argument (and Counterargument) by Michael Shermer

The Moral Argument. Humans are moral beings and animals are not. Where did we get this moral drive? Through the ultimate moral being – God. Without God, without the highest of higher moral authorities, anything foes and there would be no reason to be moral.

Counterargument. The argument that we cannot be good without God is easily refuted through a simple and straightforward question: What would you do if there were no God? The question can be followed by an additional question that draws the denouement: Would you commit deception, robbery, rape, and murder, or would you continue being a good and moral person? Either way the argument is over. If the answer is that people would quickly turn to deception, robbery, rape, or murder, then this is a moral indictment of their character, indicating they are not to be trusted because if, for any reason, they turn away from their belief in God (and most people do at some point in their lives), the plug is pulled on their constraints and their true immoral nature is revealed; we would be well advised to steer a wide course around them. If the answer is that people would continue being good and moral, then apparently you can be good without God.”

Shermer, Michael. 1999. How we Believe: The Search for God in an Age of Science. New York: W.H. Freeman, p. 98.

Cardinal O’Brien Fostering Good Relations with our Enemies

I just feel that the following illustration of Cardinal Keith O’Brien’s ‘on-going commitment to foster good inter-faith relations in Edinburgh and Scotland’ seems to stand in somewhat stark contrast to his call yesterday for Christians to ‘be united in their common awareness of the enemies of the Christian faith in our country’… the aggressive secularists.

I’m not going to comment on this. I have many conflicting opinions on inter-faith work, on aggressive secularism, and on certain tenets of the Catholic tradition…

It seems that I, like Cardinal O’Brien, am a very conflicted individual.

Nonreligion and Immortality

Just read this stimulating and informative article from my colleague Lois Lee of the NSRN. Here are my favourite snippets:

“Religious people can be as secular – in their politics, in their lived lives – as nonreligious.”

“…given that most measures place the numbers of nonreligious at between 50 and 60% of the British population […] it is unlikely that tens of millions of people share a single world view, whether or not it is [a] particular form of European Enlightenment scientism…”

“Gray is quite correct to emphasise […] the overlaps between religion and nonreligion that are lost from more naive accounts of both; but there are subtle differences that his bleak and blanket view miss out on too. The nonreligious, like the religious, accept and reject different types of and vehicles for immortality; like religious people, the nonreligious desire and deny the prospect of immortality at the same time.”

You can read the full thing here. It’s a pity the usual idiots that post on the Guardian site didn’t seem to get it…

Sport, Politics and Religion

I have just been reading this post by Colette Gilhooley on the University of Stirling’s Critical Religion blog, and I thought this might be of interest.

Please do see my previous post Just How Religious is “Sport”? for more information on the basics of the religion-sport relationship.


A combination of International Women’s Day and the anticipation of the Olympics may make this an opportune time to look at issues facing female athletes which have come to my attention recently. It has been said that Pierre de Coubertin revived the Olympic Games as an instrument of reconciliation, [yet] his successors as president of the International Committee have been tireless in their insistence that ‘politics’ should not interfere with sport’ (Guttmann, 2003: 372). The Olympic Games are an opportunity for people to demonstrate their sporting abilities and to represent their countries on an international stage and their identities as part of that culture which may, I would argue, include politics. Continue reading here.

The Slipperiness of Spirituality

This quotation sums up some of the difficulties with the term ‘spirituality’… one of my most hated terms:

“It is not always easy to say what ‘spiritual’ means; the label is used to flatter anything from earnest introspection to beauty treatments, martial arts to support groups, complementary medicine to palm reading. Moreover the descriptions of spirituality given by respondents seem to have little to do with the supernatural or even the sacred; it appears to be a code word for good feelings, the emotional rather than the material. Not even a quarter of those from a sample in Kendal, England defined their core beliefs about spirituality in terms that were either vaguely esoteric (‘being in touch with subtle energies’) or religious (‘obeying God’s will’). The rest said that it was love, being a decent and caring person, or something similarly terrestrial (Heelas and Woodhead 2005). A proportion even described it as ‘living life to the full’, on which basis some pop stars might qualify as spiritual masters.”

From Voas, David. 2010. Quantitative Methods. In Religion and Youth, ed. Sylvia Collins-Mayo and Pink Dandelion, 202-207. Surrey: Ashgate, p. 206.

Religious Age, Period and Cohort Effects

I wish I had had this to hand when I wrote my post on: Do people become more religious with age? Or is religion aging with the population?

An excellent summary of the various potential explanations, by David Voas:

“Imagine that a prophet comes to town and persuades a significant number of people, young and old, to convert to a new faith. The change is rapid and potentially enduring. Such a shift is an example of a ‘period’ effect, because it is specific to one particular point in history.

            Imagine next that as children emerge into adulthood they adopt distinctive creeds and forms of religious behaviour, much as they do with music and slang. Society would alter even if no individual changed once he or she reached maturity because older people would gradually be replaced by younger people who did things differently. Here we have a ‘cohort’ effect: people who were born around the same time (or were at school together, or fought in the same war) share certain characteristics by virtue of their common formative experience.

            Finally, imagine that people tend to have little interest in religion in youth but gradually become more religious with age. This pattern would be an ‘age’ effect. Perhaps the change occurs on reaching key stages in life, such as marrying and having children, or maybe it results from an awareness of personal mortality or an evolution in priorities. In this instance every single individual might change without society changing at all, because at any point one would always find the same mix of old and young, more or less involved with religion.”


Voas, David. 2010. Explaining Change over Time in Religious Involvement. In Religion and Youth, ed. Sylvia Collins-Mayo and Pink Dandelion, 25-32. Surrey: Ashgate, p. 25.

The Effects of ‘Partying’ on Religiosity

This site is worth a browse… even just for its sheer craziness:

I don’t doubt the value of some of the research, or the credentials of the scholars involved… but I couldn’t help but laugh when I read the following:

“Students tend to become more religiously skeptical during college if they engage in a good deal of partying, watch a lot of television, participate in a study abroad program, or if their parents go through a separation or divorce. Religious skepticism also tends to increase if the student attends a college where the student body is highly liberal politically.”

Religious parents be warned, eh?

Four Months until Armageddon

Four months exactly until my thesis is due.

I now have a plan…

At least you can all hold me to it!

The Church of England in Decline?

Just read the following and had to share it…

Will the last person to leave the Church of England please turn out the lights

The Church of England is an institution in decline, with fewer worshippers than ever and dissent in its ranks. Could salvation come in the form of severing its ties with the State?

By Adrian Hamilton
Monday, 18 April 2011 (The Independent)

As the faithful look forward to Easter and the Archbishop of Canterbury prepares to officiate at the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton, it may seem inappropriate to be discussing the future of his Church. But this Easter week, I can’t help feeling – more than ever – that the Church of England will not survive my children’s lifetime and quite possibly not even my own.

It’s not the archaism of state occasions that makes me doubt the relevance of the CofE, nor the sight this Lent of a dozen or more clergy crossing the floor to join the Roman Catholics that has made me despair of its future. Nor is it the statistics showing an ever-diminishing number of English attending their services, although these are bad enough. It’s not even the spectacle of the Church wrapping itself in knots around the issues of ordaining women and gay bishops.

These are certainly signals of an institution in decline; a community turning in on itself as its relevance diminishes. But the Church has been here before and revived.

Read more here.