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Charlie StrossPerson was signed in when posted
04:30 PM ET (US)
Dave, that's partly what's winding me up ...
David Bell
06:40 PM ET (US)
Now, isn't it just typical that people who don't care about a particular religious organisation somehow get called "pagan". Not part of the Kirk? That doesn't really make any difference whether somebody is Christian or not.
Neel Krishnaswami
03:55 PM ET (US)
The quiz seems to be carefully tuned to detect potential inconsistencies that stem from a belief that a god must be omnipotent. Though nowadays I'm an atheist materialist, I was raised as a Hindu, so I don't have any emotional problem with finitely-potent gods.

Anyway, I think Dawkins and Dennet are full of crap when they talk about memetics.

Rational-choice theory suggests that there are plenty of fully rational reasons (in the full no-holds-barred intertemporal utility maximization homo economicus sense) for people to join religions and observe weird ritual restrictions on their behavior. The basic argument runs like this: a religous group provides an altruistic social network for its members, and as such is subject to a free-rider problem, as people show up to collect the benefits but don't contribute very much. So this is where complex ritual limits on behavior show up: they make it easier to identify free riders. If you have to observe complex rituals, then it's easier to distinguish the genuinely committed from the free riders.

Also, establishment of an official religion tends to reduce participation, because a) a monopoly makes it harder for individuals to find a religious variant that appeals to them, and b) priests in a monopoly church have a reduced incentive to make their religion appealing. (It was on the strength of this last argument that Adam Smith opposed establishment and David Hume supported it.)

So has a number of implications. First, that stricter religions will grow more quickly than more lenient religions, up to the point where the strictness becomes so expensive it overwhelms the benefits of the religion. Second, as you go higher up the socioeconmic ladder, the less strict popular religions will become, since the opportunity cost of pulling away from the rest of society rises.

All of these predictions seem to hold true in practice within the US and Europe. Stricter variants -- such as Southern Baptism, Mormonism and evangelical Christianity -- have been growing much faster than more liberal churches like the Episcopalians. They also tend to have less well-educated and affluent members than the liberal churches. Finally, religious participation rates are much higher in the US than in Europe, which has never had any established religion, and the number of sects is also substantially greater. (One exception is that these results don't hold nearly as strongly for Catholicism as for Protestant sects: to explain the difference one must presumably look at differences in institutional structure.)

I like this line of research because it presupposes that people are smart, and choose to do what they do for good reasons. Forward-looking, intentional behavior is real and significant, and I don't think that the memetic drive to define it out of existence is at all realistic. In the late 50s Noam Chomsky showed that you can't model linguistic behavior with Markov models, and basically all the standard models of evolutionary game theory can be represented as Markov models. So I'm extremely dubious about the utility of memetics. Well, except for fiction. It seems like you can build more plots around the idea of viral ideas than around everyone acting foresightedly. :)
Charlie StrossPerson was signed in when posted
03:47 PM ET (US)
I'll second Simon's comment.

The first time I took it, I gave pretty much those answers -- and it took strong exception to them.

The second time around I took a firmer, judgemental line (atheist requiring stronger-than-evolution confirmation of the existence of God) and merely had to bite a bullet.

For quite a while now I've been forming an opinion to the effect that most philosophical thought -- since the turn of the 20th century, if not before -- is of zero relevance to the human condition and indeed actively obfuscates the issues and derives stupid and wrong conclusions. The fact that my brother-in-law is a philosophy prof. doesn't help improve my opinion of the field -- and neither does the inflexibility of this quiz.(Which would seriously screw with any polytheists in the audience, wouldn't it?)
Simon Bisson
09:50 AM ET (US)
The quiz doesn't seem to like agnostics who are quite happy for other people to have different beliefs...
Edited 04-30-2002 10:05 AM
Duncan Lawie
06:08 AM ET (US)
The quiz is an interesting balance for Dawkins' Virus article. Dawkins seemed very strong on trying to suggest that all religion had to be irrational and that his scientific perspective was therefore the only safe position.

Of course, Dawkins defines a pathology of religion which excludes his own beliefs and gives him safe ground for arguing that Science is not a virus. Nevertheless, the attack on religion uses arguments which have a good symmetry with the arguments he suggests meme-viruses use on each other.
Patrick Nielsen Hayden
11:22 PM ET (US)
I took the quiz, starting from this ground: I am not an atheist. To my amazement, I took no hits and bit no bullets, and was awarded the "TPM Medal of Honour." I await transcendence, or at least a nice souvenir drinking glass.
Dave Bell
06:55 PM ET (US)
Tried the Philosphy and Religion quiz.

Got hit with one contradiction -- the trouble is that they don't seem to have heard of Pascal's Wager, which has flaws but which provides a rational argument for belief despite a lack of evidence.

It's also got a rather monotheistic feel to some of the phrasing, which might lead to people with a different background giving a set of potentially inconsistent answers.
Charlie StrossPerson was signed in when posted
12:36 PM ET (US)
Hiya, Bruce ...

I asked him to clarify. He clarified: said that phrases like "oh my God" are personally offensive to him, and he's not planning on buying a copy for anyone else. On that basis, I had to advise him that he probably wouldn't want to read my work.

Leg pulling ... let's just say, with a domain like antipope.org I get a bit of it. It usually has a distinctive odour. I didn't get that here.
Bruce Sterling
11:02 PM ET (US)
Why are you harassing the paying customers?

Maybe he was buying the book for his
very pious aunt, or for a church bazaar.

A more urbane answer might have him
actually reading the book, which surely
would have moved him a step closer to

Most likely, he's pulling your leg. I'm tempted
to do that myself.
Charlie StrossPerson was signed in when posted
12:05 PM ET (US)
Okay, Patrick: "none of the ancestors I know about were Christian". Happy, now?

(To be fair, I haven't done any in-depth genealogical research -- that might be difficult, because one branch of the family came from the pale of settlement back in the 19th century and moved around like crazy. Allegedly, my great-grandfather met my great-grandmother in Poland while on his way home to Brussels(!) from Tehran(!!) where he'd been on an overland business trip. He didn't stay in Poland for long, though -- around 1900 they packed the kids off to England, then followed suit. Why didn't they go the whole hog and emigrate to the US? Nobody still alive who I've spoken to knows.)
Neel Krishnaswami
11:10 AM ET (US)
I've just finished reading Glen Cook's latest Garrett novel, _Angry Lead Skies_, and I was wondering why I like his fantasy noir-LA-in-Weimar-Germany so much. I think part of the reason is that he cuts up the standard fantasy cliches of isolated races and blood purity so vigorously and ruthlessly. Sure, the elves and the dwarves and the trolls all full of traditional xenophobic anitpathy towards one another, but that doesn't stop them from having sex for more than the two or three seconds it takes to figure out the plumbing.

It's urban fantasy, in the sense that cosmopolitanism is a vital thematic element. City air breathes free, even when it's full of smog.
Patrick Nielsen Hayden
10:23 PM ET (US)
"None of my ancestors were Christian"

Somewhat unlikely, actually, if I read my Alex Shoumatoff correctly. (And if you haven't read The Mountain of Names, that grand overview of geneology and our misconceptions about it, run out and do so.) As the "tree" of our ancestry broadens, doubling with each prior generation, the odds of some of our ancestors--quite possibly through an unacknowledged liaison--being members of quite surprising and "foreign" groups grows very large.

My mother's mother was born in Toronto, of parents who'd recently moved to Canada from St. Ives in Cornwall. For centuries, St. Ives was a hotbed of smuggling, notably of wine and other goods from Portugal. The chances that some of my ancestors were Portugese are very large. The chances that some of their ancestors were Muslims, or black Africans, or even both at once, are similarly considerable. (Or, for that matter, Jews.) This kind of thing is true of most people, save for the immediate scions of extremely isolated populations -- and I definitely don't mean "isolated" in the Hasidic or Amish sense, since those kinds of "isolation" are notorious for creating exactly the sort of, ahem, undocumented liaisons that make geneology such a speculative pursuit.

None of which robs anything from the points you're making to this fellow. As you know, Bob, I'm arguing in order to be polite.
Charlie StrossPerson was signed in when posted
05:07 PM ET (US)
What about Cthulhu worshippers?

There's a story in Toast that is deeply offensive
to elder gods!
Edited 04-09-2002 05:07 PM
05:02 PM ET (US)
I myself am deeply offended you would chose to write a work that god fearing odinists could not read with comfort

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