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Tag Archives: religion

The Wisdom of Crowds

Sir Francis Galton (Wikipedia)

Galton undoubtedly thought that the average guess of the group would be way off the mark. After all, mix a few very smart people with some mediocre people and a lot of dumb people, and it seems likely you’d end up with a dumb answer. But Galton was wrong. The crowd had guessed that the ox, after it had been slaughtered and dressed, would weigh 1,197 pounds. After it had been slaughtered and dressed, the ox weighed 1,198 pounds. In other words, the crowd’s judgement was essentially perfect. … Galton wrote later, “The result seems more creditable to the trustworthiness of a democratic judgement than might have been expected.” That was, to say the least, an understatement.

James Surowiecki, The Wisdom of Crowds

It’s crowded inside my head right now–

  • The national elections are coming up in November,
  • Some of my friends are predicting the end of the world as we know it,
  • We are experiencing a global energy transition,
  • We are trying to come to grips with the reality of climate change,
  • The universe is evolving toward infinite complexity,
  • We need to do something…

(One difference between me and my computer is that I can decided to jump outside of a problem without my computer thinking I am broken. I think I will do that now!)

I bought Surowiecki’s book, if not his argument. I think that strange things happen all the time in life, and while there is inescapable correctness in both democracy and the Iowa Electronic Markets, there are also brilliant flash-insights that go against the majority’s opinion.

Jumping out of jumping-out-of-the-problem, here are some interesting statistics that might seem unrelated to my list, or to ‘wisdom’. On one hand…

Americans’ self-reported church attendance has continued to inch up in 2010, with 43.1% of Americans reporting weekly or almost weekly attendance. This is up slightly from 42.8% in 2009 and 42.1% in 2008. The increase comes as Americans’ economic confidence has also risen, suggesting that, instead of church attendance rising when economic times get bad, as some theorize, the opposite pattern may be occurring.

—Frank Newport, Gallup

On the other hand…

Characterizations of religious life in the United States typically refererence poll data on church attendance. Consistently high levels of participation reported in these data suggest an exceptionally religious population, little affected by secularizing trends. This picture of vitality, however, contradicts other empirical evidence indicating declining strength among many religious institutions. Using a variety of data sources and data collection procedures, we estimate that church attendance rates for Protestants and Catholics are, in fact, approximately one-half the generally accepted levels.

—Hadaway, Marler and Chaves, What the Polls Don’t Show

“Secularizing trends?” You mean, like in science…

Source: Pew Research Center for the People & the Press

The recent survey of scientists tracks fairly closely with earlier polls that gauged scientists’ views on religion. The first of these was conducted in 1914 by Swiss-American psychologist James Leuba, who surveyed about 1,000 scientists in the United States to ask them about their views on God. Leuba found the scientific community equally divided, with 42% saying that they believed in a personal God and the same number saying they did not.

More than 80 years later, Edward Larson, a historian of science then teaching at the University of Georgia, recreated Leuba’s survey, asking the same number of scientists the exact same questions. To the surprise of many, Larson’s 1996 poll came up with similar results, finding that 40% of scientists believed in a personal God, while 45% said they did not. Other surveys of scientists have yielded roughly similar results.

—The Pew Forum, Scientists and Belief

(In the direction of peer pressure, and since science is a collegial enterprise, one could assume that the unbelieving group of scientists would not be truthful.)

  • As many as 51% of scientists believe a higher power exists in the universe.
  • As many as 20% of “regular citizens” do not attend church regularly, but do lie about it.
  • Fracking could replace global warming as the Next Big Thing Argument.
  • Whoever gets elected in November will very likely be the right candidate for the job.
  • The world as we know it is always ending. That’s a good thing, actually.
  • The universe is probably evolving exactly as it thinks it should.
  • We don’t need to do anything, but we get to, if we want.

The Myth of Matter, p. 6

The “Conflict Thesis”

Looking back down the timeline from the perspective of the late 1800’s with the clarity of hindsight one could easily say, “Democritus and Wycliffe (… Copernicus and Galileo…) were right, and religious orthodoxy was wrong.” [1]

Should we then make the inference that religion –and in particular, Christianity– is the enemy of science?

“The conflict thesis proposes an intrinsic intellectual conflict between religion and science based on what its authors considered to be historical evidence of perpetual opposition between religion and science. … Despite recent scholarly reevaluation, the conflict thesis remains a popular view among the general public.”[2]

He probably knew better than believe his own thesis.

This idea, unsupported by modern scholarship, was put forth by a handful of 19th century thinkers (John W. Draper, Andrew D. White, Washington Irving). I will have more to say about these fellows in a subsequent post, perhaps.

Should we make the inference then that science is the enemy of religion?


[1] It turns out that “religious orthodoxy,” in view of what was done to Joan d’Arc or Giordano Bruno, did not treat these guys too badly.

[2] Wikipedia//Conflict thesis

The Blind Men and the Elephant, p. 6

If Darwin and Wallace could co-labor, can’t we?

I have certain basic beliefs –

  • Science and religion are both metanarratives whose validities hinge on the way they are acted out.
  • ‘Just so’ stories are not properly basic ever, at any time in any narrative.
  • Everything is a metaphor for everything else.
  • (Therefore) ‘Truth’ may best be encapsulated within ‘Myth’.
  • (So that) Even our most basic understanding of physical reality, e.g. ‘matter’ may be viewed as mythological.

Everything I ‘know’, I know by ‘faith’.

I think it would be nice if you would share…

The Blind Men and the Elephant, p. 1

You may have heard a version of this parable, maybe not. John Godfrey Saxe concluded his version this way:

So oft in theologic wars,
The disputants, I ween,
Rail on in utter ignorance
Of what each other mean,
And prate about an Elephant
Not one of them has been or seen

I’ll add what Robert Heinlein said:

I never learned from a man who agreed with me.

I have certain beliefs. Other people have theirs. When we differ, I am sometimes prompted to say to myself, “Well, I probably don’t know everything about it, then.” Not always−

When confronted with, for example, “Where’s the Birth Certificate?” I am only and always prompted to say to myself, “Knucklehead!

But there are things you can learn, even from knuckleheads, if you listen carefully. If the blind men had applied this idea to their elephant they still might not have discerned the nature of the elephant, but they would have at least made progress toward understanding its true nature.

So when those people whose religious worldviews are not even wrong show up at my door …

Naw, I still don’t talk to them! But I reflect that there might be a kernel of ‘Truth’ in what they desire to be the truth.

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