Scientific American endorses Joe Biden
September 15, 2020 8:20 PM   Subscribe

Scientific American endorses Joe Biden for the US 2020 Federal election. This is the first time in the 175-year history of the publication that it has endorsed any political candidate.
posted by Multicellular Exothermic (63 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
 
Interesting and scary the way the chips are falling. Reality and science based people are now a clearly delineated "faction" in US politics.

Where have you gone, Walter Cronkite?
Our nation turns its lonely eyes to you...

posted by Meatbomb at 8:31 PM on September 15 [13 favorites]




I'm having flashbacks to 2016, when everyone and their uncle endorsed Hillary Clinton because having Trump as a president would be unimaginably bad. Now we have a government based on personal loyalty (and theft), but also based on magical thinking. And I think the magical thinking part is worse.
posted by jabah at 10:06 PM on September 15 [14 favorites]


If you would have told me (and most of the scientists I know) 10 years ago that we would openly distrust the CDC and FDA in 2020 we would have laughed in your face. What kind of tyrant or fool would try to corrupt these gems of the Federal government, who were reasonably impartial and guarding public health? Surely someone would only dismantle these agencies out of free market budget cutting craziness. Who would try to rewrite scientific reality, a move destined to bite you in the ass?
posted by benzenedream at 10:19 PM on September 15 [23 favorites]


What does it say about me, and this country, that I can only read this news and dread that conservatives will just take this as proof that scientists are biased against them?
posted by J.K. Seazer at 1:41 AM on September 16 [35 favorites]


We used to have a media landscape where a five-part series in McClure's could topple an oil monopoly. We used to have a media landscape where magazines and newspapers guarded their influence as a sacred trust.

How much of this is the level of crisis, and how much is the waning relevance of these publishers?
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 1:44 AM on September 16 [3 favorites]


conservatives will just take this as proof that scientists are biased against them

As far as science goes, conservatives have never really acted in good faith before (example). Perhaps it is time for scientists to just call out right-wing, fascist anti-intellectualism, before it is too late and there are no more opportunities available to do so.
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 2:11 AM on September 16 [12 favorites]


As someone commented elsewhere, the 2020 election has become a referendum on the Enlightenment.
posted by acb at 2:16 AM on September 16 [55 favorites]


Where have you gone, Walter Cronkite?
Our nation turns its lonely eyes to you...


And that's the way it is...
posted by flapjax at midnite at 3:01 AM on September 16 [3 favorites]


On FB, the Forbes post on their article on this has Twitler as the header image, making it seem like they endorsed him instead of Biden, despite the actual article having only a picture of the latter.
posted by romakimmy at 3:57 AM on September 16 [4 favorites]


We used to have a media landscape where a five-part series in McClure's could topple an oil monopoly. We used to have a media landscape where magazines and newspapers guarded their influence as a sacred trust.

We used to have a media landscape where news wasn't under the corporate gun to show a profit.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:12 AM on September 16 [11 favorites]


What does it say about me, and this country, that I can only read this news and dread that conservatives will just take this as proof that scientists are biased against them?

Reality has a notoriously liberal bias.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 6:14 AM on September 16 [3 favorites]


The bottom line here is that people are so doubly ignorant and uneducated that they're easily swindled by people who's business it is to lie for profit.
BUT I think one of the main reasons some people have stopped trusting in "Science" is because it's diverged from people's actual life experiences. Established mainstream Science has been very concerned with removing any trace of spirituality from reality in reaction to Religion, and denying what it can't measure. This has had the effect of alienating many people (intelligent ones too) because Science's explanation of life doesn't match people's experience of life, especially as reality gets stranger.
posted by Liquidwolf at 7:36 AM on September 16 [2 favorites]


> We used to have a media landscape where magazines and newspapers guarded their influence as a sacred trust.

I get where you're coming from, but the library I work in has a lot of newspapers going back to the 1800s and many of them were even more blatantly slanted towards whichever side of the ideological divide they occupied (not to mention filled with ads for various ridiculous snake oils) than virtually any modern "mainstream" publication or website.
posted by The Card Cheat at 7:43 AM on September 16 [10 favorites]


I could not disagree more strongly with the idea that science should get involved in religion or other "things that can't be measured", or that its failure to do so has caused the anti-science movement. I really don't think that's what most religious people want either.

The anti-science attitude commonly seen in certain religious groups (not all, by any means) is not caused by science ignoring ghosts and god, it's been grown quite deliberately by certain religious leaders, who believe that it's in their own best interest for the general public to distrust science.
posted by randomnity at 7:50 AM on September 16 [27 favorites]


I could not disagree more strongly with the idea that science should get involved in religion or other "things that can't be measured",

No not involved, but it doesn't need deride or automatically dismiss things that can't be measured by scientific means.


it's been grown quite deliberately by certain religious leaders, who believe that it's in their own best interest for the general public to distrust science.

That's what I said at the beginning of my comment.
posted by Liquidwolf at 8:00 AM on September 16


In 2016, USA Today, Variety, Vogue, and Wired all made their first-ever presidential endorsements: Hillary Clinton.

I feel like there were more of these, but trying to remember which ones isn't exactly sparking joy, so you just get the four.
posted by box at 8:31 AM on September 16 [1 favorite]


No not involved, but it doesn't need deride or automatically dismiss things that can't be measured by scientific means.

I think you are confusing the New Atheists (Dawkins, Harris, etc.) with actual scientists. The reaction of most scientists to spirituality is "not my department".
posted by benzenedream at 9:13 AM on September 16 [33 favorites]


conservatives will just take this as proof that scientists are biased against them


The value of this move is not that it will change the minds of the "base", those low information voters who are already antiscoience. The value is in chipping away at the morale of the GOP's staffers. Let them come to work every day knowing that their middle school aged children's favorite nerd magazine just called them bad people. Let them know that yes, the lab coat and test tube crowd openly loathes them.

We're in a culture war of attrition, and it's time to grind the bastards down harder than they're grinding us down.

I say this as an electrical engineer and I have to read every day the disinformation that the right wing is pushing about the situation in California. (TLDR: it's the transmission and distribution system that's collapsing, and that is happening regardless of the origin of the juice they're transporting. At least if you have a fancier solar system, you can get some electricity in island mode.) My own profession is under assault from the right wing, and it's time to fight back.

Grind. The. Fuckers. Down.
posted by ocschwar at 9:44 AM on September 16 [26 favorites]


Meanwhile:

SciAm endorsed Biden.
Science called Trump a liar.
Nature gave a shoutout to Greta Thunberg.

PNAS: you're next.
Cell: get in the bullpen, guys, before the shit hits the fan with the Covid vaccine.
posted by ocschwar at 9:47 AM on September 16 [1 favorite]


Science has never denied what it can't measure. It's worked ever harder to develop tools that can detect and measure that which is theorized but not yet detected or measured. We only just detected gravitational waves in 2016.

We have no real way of detecting or interacting with dark matter, and yet, it's not "denied."

Many religious scholars throughout history were scientists, wanting to better understand and observe the world.
posted by explosion at 9:51 AM on September 16 [11 favorites]


Framing the "bias" of scientists towards liberalism and the Democratic party as being about disdain of god is the standard right-wing approach. But like so much else, that's just empirically false. The recent shift of scientists and the educated towards Democrats is due entirely to the anti-science, anti-fact attacks being made by the right, particularly on climate but increasingly in almost every scientific domain, plus the bald-faced lies made by Trump every single day. The cultural wars about god, spirituality, bias in the classroom, etc, have been going on for decades (almost always instigated from the right), and have had little effect. The real effect is from every empirically-minded person with eyes seeing an all-out assault on truth, and being revulsed.
posted by chortly at 10:00 AM on September 16 [23 favorites]


think one of the main reasons some people have stopped trusting in "Science" is because it's diverged from people's actual life experiences.

This might have been included in what you meant but I think people's real life experiences have diverged from science. There's an old tumblr post that goes

Person today who has access to more information than any era on earth: The Earth is flat

an Artilleryman in 1451 who does not wash his own ass: I take the curvature of the earth into account when calculating trajectories

The thing is, the imaginary Artilleryman has the direct evidence of his cannonballs going where he wants them to or not. Even if he doesn't understand the equations, he has direct evidence to evaluate them with. Today, our lives are more and more mediated by technology. That is, technology gets in the middle. There's very little direct experience of anything. The most common experience, in fact, is video games, where the rules are whatever they're made to be by a godlike creator.

And information and images are entirely mediated by technology that can very easily create lies. Remember when astronauts brought back a picture of the earth from orbit? If that image were released today, it's not crazy to be suspicious that it was manipulated, because practically every photo we see is.
posted by Rainbo Vagrant at 10:01 AM on September 16 [13 favorites]


No not involved, but it doesn't need deride or automatically dismiss things that can't be measured by scientific means.

Science doesn't do that. Some individual scientists may, but it's not an inherent quality of science. Plenty of scientists do their best to completely avoid discussing religion, and some are even religious themselves. There would also be a lot fewer scientists deriding or dismissing religion in the first place if everyone would just stay in their own lane - science doesn't belong in churches and religion doesn't belong in science classrooms or public health policies.
posted by randomnity at 10:59 AM on September 16 [7 favorites]


Science is about measurement. Science took a measure of a man, and that man failed that test. And many others.
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 2:41 PM on September 16


Established mainstream Science has been very concerned with removing any trace of spirituality from reality in reaction to Religion, and denying what it can't measure.

Citation needed. I have not seen any papers in Science or Cell or Nature or anywhere degrading religion--there are an awful lot of religious scientists, in fact. Like a lot of scientific research in Europe was historically performed by monks. There's a lot of right-wing religious leaders who claim scientists are trying to destroy religion--but that's very different from that actually being the case.
posted by schroedinger at 6:09 PM on September 16 [13 favorites]


A part of the problem is there's a lot of garbage science out there reported badly by magazines that has slowly eroded its credibility.
posted by xammerboy at 9:36 PM on September 16 [1 favorite]


Perhaps it is time for scientists to just call out right-wing, fascist anti-intellectualism, before it is too late and there are no more opportunities available to do so.
posted by They sucked his brains out!


Time to start denying the benefits of science to the science deniers. See how long they hold out.
posted by Pouteria at 11:16 PM on September 16


Time to start denying the benefits of science to the science deniers. See how long they hold out.

Good luck getting that plan past an IRB.
posted by kewb at 8:09 AM on September 17 [3 favorites]


The reaction of most scientists to spirituality is "not my department".

I am related to a prominent scientist (yay me). His view on spirituality is that it is too hard a problem for our small human brains to grasp. It's like an ant trying to understand calculus.

(This was in response to my espousing my agnostic bordering on atheist viewpoint - I am not a scientist, so I am prone to making intuitive leaps without supporting facts.)
posted by tallmiddleagedgeek at 8:12 AM on September 17 [2 favorites]


I think you are confusing the New Atheists (Dawkins, Harris, etc.) with actual scientists.

I think we will be coping for a generation for the after effects of what edgy white men feeling the world was no longer theirs by fiat have done to our culture, and this is one of them. Loud white men trying to do something transgressive are responsible for all sorts of setting groups of people against each other and this is one of them.
posted by corb at 8:43 AM on September 17 [15 favorites]


As with so much in the Trumpian era, I'm both unsurprised and also disappointed and horrified. Not that I think Scientific American made the wrong decision, but that Trump has forced us to a situation where it's necessary for a journal of science to make its first intervention in politics ever.

As for media and bias, I think most people wrongly think that the very brief period in US news media from roughly the 1940's through the mid 1970's where there was a staid, conservative in the resistant to change and generally non-radical sense, sort of narrow Overton window that dominated broadcast news was normative in the past rather than being an abnormality in a past otherwise awash in explicitly partisan news media.

I'll also observe that in this ostensibly "neutral" past the establishment broadcast media stood by and failed utterly to report on civil rights, police abuses, etc. They were great examples of how when oppression is the status quo there can be no neutrality. That, ultimately, neutrality is support of the status quo and therefore support of whatever oppression is in vogue at the moment.

Our return to a more partisan press is a return to the historic norms of our nation.

As for science, I think people here are engaging in wishful thinking and outright denial.

While it is certainly true that science as an organized whole has never rallied against religion, it is undeniable that science has been steadily and persistently cutting away the space where religion can exist. To pretend otherwise is to gaslight the religious people who, rightly, see science as a force slowly eroding the foundations of their faith and undermining their religions. It isn't deliberate, it isn't because science set out to undermine religion, it's because religion is fundamentally rooted in unreality and science is about finding reality. Science cannot help but undermine religion.

While I can understand the appeal of trying to lie to the religious and tell them that science isn't really proving their religion to be false, but they aren't stupid and they see that lie for the falsehood it is. Lying to them is a waste of effort and does nothing but prove us to be liars. Science is destroying religion, it's a fact let's not pretend it isn't.

It is certainly true that atheist zealots like Dawkins have roused the ire of the religious zealots, but I don't think it's correct to blame this on him and his ilk.

For about 200 years it has become increasingly difficult to pretend to both accept reality and to believe in gods, talking snakes, magic apples, virgin mothers, and whatnot. The evidence that religion, especially the Abrahamic faiths, is false has been piling up and piling up and eventually even the most devout and the most ignorant of science are confronted with the uncomfortable truth that their faith is a lie. You can't blame that on Dawkins, it's the fault of science as a whole just steadily finding more and more truth.

We see the big dramatic obvious version of this as children raised to believe in Creationism, who have been lied to their entire lives and wrongly believe they understand evolution when in fact they've been fed a strawman that's nothing to do with real evolution, find the truth and their faith shatters.

But that destruction of faith by truth is happening quietly all over and that's the really big deal that scares the right wing religious. While Dawkins may have successfully tainted the term atheist so not many use it, "non-religious" is the fastest growing religion in America and is atheism in all but name. The Guns, God, and Gays crowd sees their numbers declining, sees their children falling from the faith, and sees their religion undermined by science and they are not wrong when they say it is because science is undermining their religion. It is.

So yes, we've got a backlash of the retrograde holdouts clinging desperately to the faith of their childhood despite knowing it to be a lie. That's not comfortable, that's dangerous, but it's also reality. No amount of pandering to them will ever make them vote for us so why bother pretending? I wish the Democrats would give up the lie, admit that they'll never get the vote of the religious bloc, and just tell the truth for a change.
posted by sotonohito at 10:14 AM on September 17 [2 favorites]


I think that there is an unhelpful conflation of "religion" and "Christianity as practiced in America". Judaism, Hinduism, Sikhism - none of these feel any threat from science, if my Twitter feed is any indication. I understand Islam historically saw an understanding of the world as a way to appreciate the wonders of Allah.

While the Vatican does have scientists on staff, they do also have a significant faction who are in it for the idea that Catholicism has access to timeless truths. This is not a view that is compatible with science, which has a built-in process for discarding truths.

Christianity in America, in particular, takes a lot of cues from the evangelical approach, which is incompatible with science and, frequently, incompatible with itself. Treating the Bible as an inerrant source of truth, whose meanings should be obvious, and whose verses can be stripped of context and used as a cudgel with no loss of meaning, leads not just to spiritual poverty, but also a hostility to anything that explains the world better than people millennia ago trying to make sense of the world.

I mean, for myself, religion isn't really able to answer the spiritual questions I have about the world. I've heard what I can only describe as the voice of God - a powerful calling unlike anything else I've felt before - and it led me to a 50% sale for the Nintendo GameCube. I'd be shocked if any religion could explain why, out of all the things in my life that I needed guidance for, a spiritual force guided me toward a sale on a video game console.

I still have that GameCube.
posted by Merus at 10:53 AM on September 17 [9 favorites]


I agree with your wider point, Merus, but there is one spiritual (also materialist and anti-superstitious) philosophy that can provide an explanation I at least find meaningfully satisfying. Allow me to indulge in a little self-aware tongue-in-cheek evangelizing for Epicureanism and offer an answer:

That GameCube brought you aesthetic pleasure and moments that made life enjoyable to live presumably without serious negative repercussions in your life. That is, ultimately, enough. We are here, we don't know why, we probably won't get answers but we can learn to look around and appreciate it while it lasts.

More on topic: scientific study and advancing our understanding of the world can be part of that, but how we do that and what we do with the results can (often are) inherently destructive or political. I am a little uneasy about the SciAm endorsement because I see it as part of a landscape in which scientific institutions are being increasingly compromised by authoritarians. It is a reaction to that, and a hopeful rejection, but the wider context is disquieting. I wrote something longer, but I deleted it. I am not sure my perspective would add anything.
posted by Lonnrot at 2:29 PM on September 17 [2 favorites]


PhD in Biology. Ordained elder in the Presbyterian Church, USA. I find no conflict between the two.
posted by hydropsyche at 3:38 PM on September 17 [9 favorites]


The thing is, the imaginary Artilleryman has the direct evidence of his cannonballs going where he wants them to or not... Today, our lives are more and more mediated by technology. That is, technology gets in the middle. There's very little direct experience of anything. The most common experience, in fact, is video games, where the rules are whatever they're made to be by a godlike creator.

This is really well put... Videogames where the rules are whatever the creator wants, and social media which is run by advertisers.
posted by subdee at 5:14 PM on September 17


While I can understand the appeal of trying to lie to the religious and tell them that science isn't really proving their religion to be false, but they aren't stupid and they see that lie for the falsehood it is. Lying to them is a waste of effort and does nothing but prove us to be liars.

If you think religion is a series of magical events in a book that can be disproved, this is true. I would argue though that the core teleological questions (what is my purpose in the world? What should I value? Why is this thing good?) are not questions answerable by the scientific method.
posted by benzenedream at 11:39 PM on September 17 [9 favorites]


I think we can meaningfully divide what we call religion into what might be termed Magic Man religion and Philosophic religion.

Obviously those are broad categories with lots of overlap, but equally obviously what the average MAGA hat wearing evangelical Christian Trump voter calls religion is going to have very little in common with what the stereotypical tweed suited religious philosopher will call religion.

Certainly in the US, and I'd argue planetwide, the overwhelming majority of religious people are Magic Man religious not Philosophic religious. Here in 'Murca the MAGA hat crowd doesn't really care about the deep questions, they wanna hear about how the big daddy figure in the sky is going to smite the wicked (and wants them to do some smiting of their own) and how when they die they'll go to fluffy cloud heaven and play a harp.

That's religion as it exists for the purposes of this discussion, and that's what science is unavoidably and inevitably making impossible to believe in, and that's what they're fighting against and why they hate science.

The advocates of Philosophic religion are viewed as being just as destructive to the Magic Man religion of MAGA land as the evil atheist scientists are and the practitioners of Magic Man religion hate you Philosophic religion types as much as they hate the evil scientists and atheists.
posted by sotonohito at 9:40 AM on September 18 [4 favorites]


The anti-science attitude commonly seen in certain religious groups (not all, by any means) is not caused by science ignoring ghosts and god, it's been grown quite deliberately by certain religious leaders, who believe that it's in their own best interest for the general public to distrust science.

Yes. And not just certain religious leaders, but certain political leaders too. These leaders most likely don't actually doubt the science, they just don't like it because it goes against their agenda. I don't think any of them are concerned about what life on earth is going to be like in 50-100 years.
posted by wondermouse at 10:50 AM on September 18


I think of it more as Thought Control religions. Evangelicals are concerned most with control and tribalism above all else, the religion is at best a window dressing for it. They don't actually care that science contradicts magic stories and actively promote dissonance to isolate believers. Philosophic religion and science are both threats to Control religions insofar as they both teach you to think for yourself rather than listen to authority.
posted by benzenedream at 10:56 AM on September 18 [3 favorites]


the average MAGA hat wearing evangelical Christian Trump voter calls religion is going to have very little in common with what the stereotypical tweed suited religious philosopher will call religion.

Certainly in the US, and I'd argue planetwide, the overwhelming majority of religious people are Magic Man religious not Philosophic religious


With all due respect, this comes off, intentionally or not, a lot like playing into white evangelical supremacy.

White evangelicals are 17% of the US population, per the Economist. That's a large percentage, but it is by no means the bulk of the religious population, which not only is wide and diverse, but which is the bulk of nonwhite people in the United States.

If you aren't currently intimately living within the religion, you don't have any way of knowing its nuances or its philosophy - most of which is only experienced thoughtfully and quietly, not by assaulting people on the street or yelling in internet forums about it. And I find it incredibly insulting and dismissive for you to look at "Religion" and see the most annoying white people you know, instead of the people quietly living out their faith all around you. Who study science and are excited about learning its mysteries as a way of getting closer to God.

I receive a religious magazine monthly. The past month, it included a spread of how God calls us to listen to the science about Covid-19, and two spreads on our religious requirement to support Black Lives Matter.

You are welcome to do what you want, I can't force you, but I absolutely personally experience this kind of dialogue as erasure.
posted by corb at 3:01 PM on September 18 [20 favorites]


I've been on the internet far too long. I saw "SA Endorses Joe Biden" on the sidebar and thought "SomethingAwful? They're still around?"

Also, yes.
posted by phong3d at 7:52 PM on September 19 [1 favorite]


I wish the Democrats would give up the lie, admit that they'll never get the vote of the religious bloc

I find this statement baffling. I'd encourage everyone to both read corb's response, and to consider the quite large number of voting Democrats who are religious ("magic man" or otherwise).

wow, reductive framing
posted by aspersioncast at 9:23 AM on September 20 [2 favorites]


I spoke carelessly, and while intention doesn't matter I wasn't trying to be insulting. However, clearly I was so I apologize.

I also spoke carelessly using the wrong words for things with definitions. When I said "evangelical MAGA hat" I didn't actually mean people who self identify as part of the group of Christians who call themselves Evangelical, I was using it improperly as a stand in for "obnoxious Christians". That was sloppy, and in any sort of discussion where terms and definitions matter it was inexcusable.

I do think that any and all denominations of Christianity are under threat by science. Not that science wants to threaten any of Christianity, but it's just inevitable. No matter how liberal and nicey nicey, and vague, anything that can be meaningfully called Christian involves belief in propositions that are being undermined by science. People are good at compartmentalization, thus the presence of a shrinking number of scientists who are also Christian. Their presence doesn't change the threat that science represents to Christianity.

I will admit to a great deal of animosity towards religion of all sorts and specifically towards the big three Abrahamic religions. My views reflect my lived experience. Religion has always done bad things to me and people I care about and the good Christians people here keep telling me exist have never been there to stop their evil brethren. I've lived my entire life in Texas, I know Christianity inside and out. You can accuse me of a lot of things, but ignorance of how Christianity works is not one of them.

My whole life I've watched Christians hurt the people I know and care about.
posted by sotonohito at 9:51 AM on September 21 [3 favorites]


But if you accept the idea that God created the universe as a matter of faith, is it really that hard to also accept the idea that nothing science discovers is inconsistent with God creating the universe as a matter of faith? People who can make that part of their faith aren't under any threat from science, it's just the ones who can't who have a problem.
posted by InfidelZombie at 10:20 AM on September 21 [2 favorites]


InfidelZombieoYou are quite correct, a cleverly designed non falsifiable deity who is defined as never doing anything, hiding from everyone, and being totally indistinguishable from not existing is indeed immune to being falsified. But that's not Christianity, or really religion in the sense we're discussing things here.

Plus, if the Southern Baptist inquisition ever gets power, deists will be lined up against the wall and shot same as us atheists.

I'll confess I'm baffled by people who profess to believe in such a deity, to me it just seems like atheism with extra steps. But yes if we can meaningfully call that a religion then it is a religion that is not under threat from science.

However any person who ascribes to the Nicene Creed is following a religion that is under threat by science because they believe in falsifiable (and increasingly falsified) things.

corb RE: erasure.

Functionally, liberal Christians vote like non-religious people. For the purposes of political analysis Christian really is synonymous with fundamentalist because religion is only predictive of voting when it is right wing. Less serious Christians can go either way. You've got your stockbroker Christmas and Easter Christians who vote reliably Republican and your working class liberal Christmas and Easter Christians who vote reliably Democratic. When dealing with less fanatic Christianity a person's Christianity has almost no relationship to their politics. Which is my explanation for why I tend to just ignore the religion of non-evil Christians.

However, while it may explain my erasure it doesn't excuse it.

So again I apologize. You, and all non-evil Christians have achieved something truly amazing and noteworthy. Despite all obstacles you have managed to turn out OK despite being raised in an evil religion and you deserve acknowledgement.

Going forward I'll try to phrase things more specifically so as to avoid this sort of erasure. Just because you are, from a political standpoint, functionally identical to a non-religious person does not mean I should speak of you as if you were non-religious.
posted by sotonohito at 10:19 AM on September 22 [1 favorite]


However any person who ascribes to the Nicene Creed is following a religion that is under threat by science because they believe in falsifiable (and increasingly falsified) things.

I didn't see anything in that creed that is falsifiable or not. You note in an earlier comment the existence of essentially two branches: Magic Man and Philosopher, and then go on to paint all of Christianity as the Magic Man type and ignore Philosopher:

You are quite correct, a cleverly designed non falsifiable deity who is defined as never doing anything, hiding from everyone, and being totally indistinguishable from not existing is indeed immune to being falsified. But that's not Christianity, or really religion in the sense we're discussing things here.

Also, that may not be Christianity to you, but that doesn't mean it's not. As someone raised Catholic in a small-ish town in Texas, I am very sensitive to someone else deciding whether or not someone is Christian. You seem to have a very narrow definition that excludes lots of Christians (I would even say almost the majority of them. Same as with politics, the loudest are usually the extremists).
posted by LizBoBiz at 12:51 AM on September 23 [6 favorites]


LizBoBiz Perhaps I misunderstood InfidelZombie, but I understood that he was discussing a deism that didn't include Jesus which seems to be a pretty basic requirement for something to be considered Christian.

I mean, sure, if someone says "I am a Christian" I accept that they're a Christian regardless of all other things. I'm absolutely not trying to engage in gatekeeping or telling people they aren't Christian. People get to decide their own religious labels.

But absent an explicit declaration of Christianity a person who describes a deistic, not different in any way at all from being non-existent, deity and doesn't mention Jesus at all I don't think it's really wrong to assume they aren't Christian. If, after I make that assumption I'm corrected then of course I will not deny their Christianity. But I don't really see anything wrong with assuming a person who doesn't even mention Jesus when they talk about their religious beliefs isn't Christian.

And any religion that involves Jesus is, pretty much literally, involving a Magic Man.

Therefore yes, I consider any religion that involves Jesus to be a Magic Man religion. What else do you call a religion that claims there was once a man who performed magic?

My definition of "Christian" is "anyone who self identifies as Christian". My presumption is that if a person's religion doesn't involve Jesus then they aren't Christian unless and until they state they are.
posted by sotonohito at 4:16 AM on September 23


And any religion that involves Jesus is, pretty much literally, involving a Magic Man.

Only if you accept the Bible as 100% literal truth. There is nothing Magic Man about believing "Love thy Neighbor as thyself. From that, all other commandments flow." It is perfectly possible to call oneself Christian and just follow Jesus' teachings without following the Magic Man parts.

As someone who does not identify as Christian myself (and as someone who has a B.A. in Philosophy/Religion), your argument reads to me as dismissive and condescending, bordering on myopic and obtuse to shore up said argument.
posted by a non mouse, a cow herd at 8:03 AM on September 23 [2 favorites]


There is a significant percentage of American Christians who believe the Bible is 100% literal truth. I was raised in one such tradition, and my entire family still believe that. I rebelled early, and it has been a wedge between me and family since I was very young. It has done immeasurable damage to a lot of people, myself included. It has taken a very long time for me to overcome my pain and not paint every theist or believer with the same brush. I came to realize that my antipathy towards religion was a reflection of the intolerant religious tradition I was raised in, and which has done so much harm. It's even harder now that it is obvious the Fundamentalist's rejection of science and authoritarian ambitions could doom the ecosphere to destruction by climate change. But I'm trying to see the good in people.
posted by vibrotronica at 9:22 AM on September 23 [2 favorites]


I wasn't trying to argue for deism, but maybe I wasn't clear.

Faith is accepting the truth of something without requiring a justification. In that case testability isn't really relevant.

So why can't you have faith that God performs miracles, and that science is accurate?

From a scientific perspective that doesn't make sense, but it seems like a workable religious view to me.

Fundamentalists seem to think they do need a justification for faith and they find it in the literal word of the bible. So science is a real problem for their beliefs. But it's hard to see how it's a problem for anyone else.
posted by InfidelZombie at 11:30 AM on September 23 [2 favorites]


Faith is accepting the truth of something without requiring a justification. In that case testability isn't really relevant.

Testability isn't relevant for the believers, but it may well indeed be relevant for those on the outside of the belief set, just look to the QAnon types for how that kind of belief "logic" works. Faith alone is not adequate justification for much of anything in the social realm as we live in a shared environment where beliefs have costs, in addition to whatever personal benefits they may be felt to also have.

The desire to have answers and/or find solace in some belief is understandable, but the need to create answers where there are none, to define the world by belief, opinion, likes, and "personal experience" in the face of contrary evidence, alternative possibility, and history is a conceptual problem that shows up repeatedly in many areas of life, not just religion alone. It is mostly benign and to varying degree, universal, but a problem nonetheless for how such "belief" leads to all sorts of bad results, from prejudice, violence, ignorance, and social division.

That isn't the fault of religion. Religion is just one element of that demand to "know" and has had results both beneficial and terrible in its own right and it has a shared root with many kinds of other defining "beliefs" that also range widely on the benefit to harm scale which are all exceptionally difficult to change for being beyond the need for justification.

Within any social group such kinds of shared beliefs can act as a bond to hold the group together and build relationships, but to those outside the group those same beliefs inherently act to separate or alienate one set of believers from others with little chance of full repair for being belief based where there is so little space for reasoned compromise or adaptation.
posted by gusottertrout at 12:26 PM on September 23 [1 favorite]


For the purposes of political analysis Christian really is synonymous with fundamentalist because religion is only predictive of voting when it is right wing. Less serious Christians can go either way.

I can hear that you bear a lot of trauma from what the Southern Baptists you grew up around did to you, and I want to be really sensitive to that. It sounds truly terrible, and I know you're not the only one who grew up with that trauma. I know there's a lot of people who identify with that broad category of religion who have done a lot of harm, and I want to make sure to hold space for that.

But what I hear you doing is still focusing that these (white) people are the 'real, serious' Christians - possibly because your trauma has fixed on them as the first bearers of that message. You're still centering them, and I can absolutely understand why. But in order to center them, you have to think of other people who vote and act in different ways as 'less serious'. And I think that's a little unfair - and, though you may not intend it, very similar to what those people tend to do. I've absolutely been told that I'm 'not a Christian but an idolater' by white Baptists, because they define Christianity in a very specific way, and they often tend to find nonwhite Christianity kind of weird and loud and icky.

I'm a fairly serious liberation theology Catholic. I attend church regularly, not just Christmas and Easter. I teach 'Sunday school.' My faith absolutely informs my politics, in that it tells me I have a moral obligation to welcome the stranger, to fight the oppressor, to achieve the dignity of the worker. To bring social unrest in order to remove the sin of greed from the world that leaves so many people throughout the world impoverished and unable to live the life they were meant to. That Christ was in many ways a revolutionary, and if I am called to be like Christ, then I am called to do the same. It is in many ways my faith which has made me a leftist, rather than my politics informing and mitigating my faith.

I understand your feelings to the religious, and I'm not trying to change those - I know you have a lot of lived experience that has brought you there. What I'm asking is just that you can try to remember that there exists 'serious' religious people who have very, very different values than the people you know and experienced, and that many of us have also experienced a lot of harm by being considered 'less-than' various forms of, for example, white Christianity in the United States.
posted by corb at 4:51 PM on September 23 [6 favorites]


For the purposes of political analysis Christian really is synonymous with fundamentalist because religion is only predictive of voting when it is right wing. Less serious Christians can go either way.

I go to church every Sunday (currently on Zoom). I am an ordained elder, the ruling officers of our church. I serve on multiple committees and on the board of a related non-profit, so it seems like I've got some church meeting or another every week. I sing in the choir (currently meeting on Zoom and then each recording our own parts individually which are then assembled into videos to be used in our Zoom worship). I volunteer regularly, currently by making lunches once a month for our ministry of handing out food to our neighbors in downtown Atlanta who are food insecure. And I vote for progressive political candidates who believe like I do in feeding and housing the poor, caring for the sick, freeing prisoners, and fighting for justice for the oppressed. In what way am I a "less serious Christian"?
posted by hydropsyche at 4:52 AM on September 24 [4 favorites]


What terms would be preferable?

I used "serious" becuase, to me as an outsider, it appears they take more of the Bible seriously and ignore less of it than liberal Christians do. The Bible is filled with commands to rape, torture, murder, comit genocide, and otherwise oppress and do evil. As an outsider it appears that liberal Christians ignore the bulk of the Bible (that is, the evil parts) in order to cherrypick the tiny handful of less awful verses. Thus "serious", as in the conservatives take more of the Bible more seriously and ignore less of it.

Clearly that's not a terminology you like or accept, so what is? I really do try not to be a jackass and if there is a generally accepted terminology that makes the distinction I'm trying to make I'll adopt it.

More generally, re science and magic man and so on, it seems to me that people are straining out gnats and swallowing camels. Yes, there is a very tiny minority of tweed suited erudite philosopic types who self identify as Christians yet also reject all the magic man parts. No, they don't exist in sufficient numbers to be worth caring much about and they certainly don't represent the overwhelming majority of Christian belief whether held by liberals, conservatives, or whatever.

The vast majority of Christians believe in Jesus as a man who performed magic as evidenced by polling. Depending on sect between 85% and 97% of self identified Christians believe Jesus rose from the dead, I can't think of a more perfect example of Magic Man religion than that. The magic man faction is clearly dominant.

Heck, the Magic Man faction is so dominant that fully 1/3 of **NON-CHRISTIANS** say they believe that Jesus was born to a virgin. When the Magic Man propaganda is so widespread and so successful that even people who aren't part of the religion believe it to be true then it is utterly absurd to claim the Magic Man faction is small and insignificant.

Why should I ignore the vast majority of Christianity to obsessively focus on an insignificant number of people who will be burned at the stake right alongside me if the Southern Baptists get their way?

corb In order to clarify and assure I'm not claiming heritage or history that is not mine, I think I need to say that I was not raised Christian and therefore spared virtually all the childhood trauma that is often associated with being raised Christian. My family was more apatheistic and ignostic than anything else. My father was a perpetual seeker after The Truth, he flirted with everything from Scientology to New Age crystal BS and in his past (before my birth) had been deeply Christian before becoming disillusioned with it as he became disillusioned with every spiritual path he took. My mother mostly didn't express any religious belief at all beyond a very vague deism and an equally vague belief in some sort of soul or spirit.

Any trauma, if that's the word, happened in later interactions with non-family Christians. I was fired twice for being openly atheist (though not confrontationally atheist, IRL I'm a quiet sort of person who avoids conflict and debate) and that's about the worst that Christians have personally done to me.

Personally I find all religion to be weird and sort of icky, white, non-white, Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, etc. But, also speaking personally and not for any other cis het white men, I am much more comfortable on the times I attended my mother in law's African Methodist Episcopal church services than when I went to white Christian services with white friends or family who requested I be there. Possibly because I know that historically it's the white Christians who are most likely to be violent? Or possibly just because I really like my mother in law so I'm predisposed to be more charitable to her church? Or possibly because of lingering good feelings towards Black churches due to their efforts in the civil rights movement? I'm unsure, but I can say that I find Black Christianity less icky than white Christianity. It's irrational on my part, I think they're all equally false and studies show they all have about the same instances of sheltering abusers.

As I said above, I do apologize for using serious as a label. It made sense to me at the time, but clearly was inappropriate and if I can learn a better, more appropriate, label I'll gladly use it moving forward so as to avoid being a jerk.
posted by sotonohito at 9:39 AM on September 24


I mean, I call them hateful Christians who ignore the teachings of Jesus in favor of selective quoting of other books of the Bible when it's convenient to them but mostly just claim to practice Christianity as an excuse to promote misogyny, white supremacy, and oppress LGBTQ people. You can call them whatever you want. But I don't really get what's "serious" about them.
posted by hydropsyche at 3:04 PM on September 24


I finally figured it out. Non-Christians think fundamentalists are more "serious" Christians because they think literalism is a good thing. Literalist reading of scripture is a really new idea that developed as a backlash against modernism and science. Christianity, like Judaism, has historically taken a much more interpretative, dialectical reading of scripture, grappling with its metaphors and contradictions in a search for truth.

Look at Thomas Aquinas--I may not agree with all of his conclusions, but he was obviously trying to think through possible meanings of scripture and their implications, not just grab quotes out of context and claim them as literal truth.

To try to read "literally" a long series of writings from many times, places, and perspectives, full of poetry and metaphor, many of which are contradictory of one another, some of which are self-contradictory, is to ignore their actual meanings and the struggle for truth in favor of cheap soundbites that, yes, are usually only used when convenient to further misogyny, white supremacy, and oppression of LGBTQ people. That is a serious error, but it's certainly not "serious" Christianity.
posted by hydropsyche at 5:11 AM on September 25 [2 favorites]


I acknowledge that Biblical Literalism is both recent and impossible. The so-called literalists are also ignoring chunks of the Bible. Just, as near as I can tell, they're ignoring less of it than you are. To me that looks more serious (you ignore more of the Bible, they ignore less of the Bible) thus my now abandoned use of the term which I have now apologized for three times and which going forward I will not use.

To me it appears that the Bible is a thoroughly evil book that directly and unambiguously commands Christians to do evil in many simple, clear, and straightforward passages. The wicked fundamentalists have a very easy time using the Bible to justify their evils because most of the text as measured by word count does appear to command evil.

The liberal Christians have a much more difficult time of things because they must hunt for a number of scattered verses which they can use to assemble a narrative of goodness which is developed into a hermeneutic. Carefully applied this complex hermeneutic can be used to proclaim that all the parts of the Bible that appear to command evil are, in fact, not commanding what a simple, or naive, understanding would imply and in fact are commanding the exact opposite.

So let's try "simple Christians" and "complex Christians". Is that acceptable?

I'll confess that to me the complex Christians appear to be just doing Humanism with extra steps (and ignoring most of the Bible in the process), but each to their own.
posted by sotonohito at 10:05 AM on September 25


Oh my God why can't we just let everyone name themselves whatever religion they want instead of trying to force a label on them so we can stick them in a nice tidy box?
posted by randomnity at 10:10 AM on September 25


At a certain point being above 10% of a thread, trying to add epicycles to self-defined terms other people haven't shown much inclination of wanting to adopt becomes shadowboxing.
posted by CrystalDave at 10:28 AM on September 25


No one will tell me the right terms so I'm forced to keep guessing.

randomnity I have explicitly said that I respect the label anyone chooses for themselves.

But clearly no one will tell me what the proper terminology is, I don't know why not, so I'll shut up.
posted by sotonohito at 10:58 AM on September 25


Episcopalians, most Methodists and Presbyterians (PCUSA) and Lutherans (ELCA), some Congregationalists (UCC) and Baptists (ABCUSA) and Disciples of Christ, are typically called “mainline Protestants”.

Also, every religion is weird except your own.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 11:19 AM on September 25 [1 favorite]


The names matter because the associations formed from those names and identities matter, even if the actions or values claimed under the larger and ill-defined group label don't match the individual beliefs, which is exceptionally common given how incoherent Christianity and many of the other broad label religions are once you look at individual beliefs within the group.

To make it easier, take just Catholicism as an example, the religion I was raised in. Among those who call themselves Catholics, you will find people who consider themselves pro-choice, feminists, gay or pro-GLBTQ, and so on, but the Catholic church hierarchy is none of those and the history of the Catholic church is one of active attack on those values along with a history tied to violence, colonialism, and other abuses too numerous to go into. In that way, the beliefs laid out as essential to the Church and expected of Catholics to follow can run deeply contrary to the claimed beliefs of some of its members.

There is a problem with that as the meaning of "Catholic" gets confused in ways that are difficult to parse. If one doesn't hold to the expected beliefs of the Church then in what sense are they Catholic and why do they seek to associate with a belief set they don't hold themselves given their association/participation in the church is what gives the Church its power to spread or maintain opposing values through the strength of its membership and the wealth gained through them. The individual Catholic may not believe as the Church or may even actively oppose its values on their own, but they are also feeding the power of the Church at the same time, making for a kind of contradictory representation of meaning.

The question of "why" people stay in the Church was rhetorical. I've heard many varying reasons, tradition or community, one was raised as a Catholic so they stay Catholic, appreciation of some aesthetic elements, lack of interest in changing since the values of the Church don't really matter, and so on. All of those concepts about the relationship between Church and individual carry a sense of incoherence of belief along with them, even more so when the Christian beliefs themselves are so fungible, abstract, or otherwise vague. The terms lose their meaning at the individual level, at least in the sense of how they can be understood by association with any broader membership, but are still wielded and allowed to be so, as if they stand for the near totality of the membership for Church power. That same dynamic holds for the notion of "Christians" as a group, as well as for most other large group dynamics where people choose/maintain association for reasons other than a explicitly stated shared set of values along some more narrow lines.

All of this may feel completely normal to the individuals within the group, some may see themselves as reformists, as those, for example, trying to change the Catholic Church from within, but that relationship doesn't fully parse, which is why it will also be used in counter methods to opposing ends, perhaps to even greater effect. The arguments don't hold other than as yet another layer of belief or as reliant on the hold the individual feels for the name they claim. That's of course fine for them, but it also at the heart of many of the larger social problems with organized religions. Individually one may not really want to look at the connection to one's chosen faith community too closely because the feelings about it are so deeply held as to make digging into them feel almost sacrilegious in itself, either literally or metaphorically. The idea, for just one example, that naming oneself as Christian purely on the basis of thinking the teaching associated with Christ sound good doesn't hold up all that well on inspection as the whole truth of it, as there have been many people who have espoused words of wisdom but almost none have groups of people devoting a day a week for life to the study of some smallish collection of their words and deeds.

That there is this incoherence to religion doesn't of course deny the power of the individual beliefs or suggest those beliefs are therefore corrupted by the lack of cohesion within the groups, it merely suggests that much of the basis of organized religions is more about the "organized" than the "religion" as such, since individual belief can be held without needing category. Because of that, the organizations are the problem as they carry so much of the representational weight of the names, even when any given member or smaller group within the overarching named group holds opposing beliefs. Those organizations, as a whole, have stood for and done many awful things, just as many secular groups have done, but churches tend to last longer and have claims of moral authority build into their value set in ways that make them harder to hold to account because so many associate with them because of personal belief rather than their explicit values.
posted by gusottertrout at 11:58 AM on September 25


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