In a previous post I threw some primate feces into a rotating blade after reading an article which had the following properties. 1. The story was about religious belief. 2. The story was on the impact of some “scientific” study on religious belief. 3. It was terrible reporting. 4. The headline had an implication, entailment, or assertion that was unsupported by the data. 5. The implication, entailment, or assertion in the headline was just what a CDR (cultured despiser of religion) would *wish* to be true.
I think that, in general, trait 1 is highly correlated with trait 3, but when traint 2 enters, things only get worse. I have now had the misfortune of seeing yet another article which displays these five qualities in spades. In this case, though, I want to focus not on how ridiculously bad the reporting is, but on an important item of religious epistemology it highlights.
First, the details in brief. The title is the following assertion.
(T) “Belief In God Plummets Among Youth”
The opening assertion of the piece is a more inflammatory version of (T).
(A) “The younger generation is abandoning God in droves.”
I’m not sure 15% counts as “droves” but whatever. Then we get the author’s second-hand summary of the data.
(S) “A new survey by the Pew Research Center finds that belief in the existence of God has dropped 15 points in the last five years among Americans 30 and under.”
One would expect that the assertion in (S) would have the following content.
(C) According to the survey, where t is today and n is the percentage of the sample that believed that there was a God at t-5years, the percentage at t who believe that there is a God is n-15.
But it turns out that (S) bears no obvious relation at all to (C). So then how are the numbers in (S) arrived at? Here is a report of the actual results of the survey.
(R) “Pew, which has been studying the trend for 25 years, finds that just 68 percent of millennials in 2012 agree with the statement “I never doubt the existence of God.” That’s down from 76 percent in 2009 and 83 percent in 2007.”
The article has the following topical tags: “Atheism, God, agnosticism.” Well, one out of three isn’t terrible. The story does have some relation to God.
So here are some equivalencies which would be required to be true for (T) and (A) to be true. Ahem.
(E1) S believes in God only if S never doubts that there is a God.
(E2) If S had a doubt about God, then S has abandoned God.
(E1) and (E2) are, of course, obviously false.* In fact, I dare say they are ludicrously false, if you will, or egregiously false. But rather than focus on the consequent ludicrously and egregiously bad reporting of Mssr Kapur, our CDR de jour, I instead want to focus upon the egregious use of (E1) and (E2) by *religious* folk. But first a caveat on the social epistemology here.
The last piece examined and this one are drops in the bucket. The Secular Industrial Establishment’s publishing arm (whether through malice or wish-fulfillment) routinely displays headlines which make anti-religious assertions not backed up by the data. It is natural that we trust headlines pretty spontaneously. It is hard to estimate how much public doubt rests on this spurious “evidence.” Add to that the confident bombasticism of Ivory Tower types and hoi polloi begin to get misleading evidence that religion is somehow intellectually deficient. And those rebels who don’t accept the headlines or the talking heads are branded as Neanderthals and assimilated to the Grand Secular Narrative. But thinking about this too much will “angry up my blood” as Grandpa Simpson said, so I’ll return to the critique of my own house.
Here is a quote that hangs on my wall. I copied it down long-hand when I was a Southern Baptist Youth Minister (long trek from there to Rome, but a pretty typical one).
“Lucille has no joy because of the doubts and questions in her heart. She does not take the Lord at His Word…but allows all sorts of questions to burden her mind. She must know the why and how of everything instead of taking the Word of God by Faith.” From _Dear Princess_, by Mary M. Landis, 1973. #Gagreflex
It could well be that Mssr Kapur was in fact raised in a religious milieu where this kind of pious nonsense was propagated, and this would partly exculpate his utter inability to discern basic distinctions in the subject matter upon which he appoints himself to comment so authoritatively.
I have preached the gospel of fallibilism high and low, but I think it bears repeating. Mature belief in God is perfectly consistent with doubt. Doubt comes in degrees and too much doubt will drive out belief. But it is natural, normal, and maybe even *necessary* to doubt. This latter point brings us to what might be the greatest irony of the reporting. For it might not just be obviously false and biased but actually inverted. That is, it might indicate that belief in God will be on the rise or that it can be expected to remain strong. Here’s why.
Undue certainty (which, from my perspective is all certainty) is likely to precipitate unbelief. No one’s belief is more likely to be overthrown by doubts than the person who is over-confident and disconnected from the evidence (as anyone who is certain of anything substative must be, I say). But someone who, reasonably, maintains belief in the face of doubts (as we all must, if we believe anything at all) is more likely to have that belief persist, because it is in proper touch with the evidence and is the result of at least some ratiocination.
So, yes, the reporting is terrible; yes, the reporting is biased (whether maliciously or soft-headedly); yes, it is part of a vast network of such biased nonsense which supports the CDRther’s (trying to play of “birthers” etc) self assurance; but we should take care of our own house first. Let’s try to eradicate infallibiisms from our religious circles. Let us embrace the faith-strengthening power of doubt (Gary Habermas has a great little book on doubt, and there are others). Let us always remember what Aquinas kept reminding us of: Christianity is true, so it is never, ever at odds with the facts (though we can have misleading evidence that it is).
*There is an literature in which the term “doubt” entails inability to assent which occurs often in pre-20th Century Catholic thought, but that is clearly not the context here.