Hazards of surveys:
I have so often felt that people were ignoring the elephant in the living room and believing the impossible that I have occasionally thought that “common wisdom” is a contradiction in terms.  That is probably too harsh a judgment. 

I was thus impressed by an article (The Science of “Dosestimation,” Charles Seife SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN vol. 303 no. 6 December, 2010 page 31) that examines a recent survey.  The article had two subtitles, “Do the math” and “Why we shouldn’t put our faith in opinion polls.”  That seems to me to be unusual.  Somebody was outraged. 

There had been a survey.  The conclusion of the survey is not particularly cogent.  The authors had announced that atheists knew more about religion than the faithful did.  I would assume that some do and some don’t.  And what does it mean to “know about religion”?  Does it mean recognizing scripture, being able to detect subtle theological differences, knowing all the words to the hymns, knowing the names of fellow worshipers?  I would not know quite what to choose and would not be happy blindly accepting the choices of another. 

It seems to me that the important thing was that a survey was done and a respected journal examined the results and the methods.  And that journal did not like what was seen.  And was willing to say as much.

That strikes me as very good, not any errors that may have occurred but the willingness to challenge.

Scientific rigor, like freedom, requires constant vigilance.  I believe very deeply in freedom of religion even though I am quite aware that there have been and are religions that do not much believe in freedom.  No, let me rephrase that.  There are people who profess one or more religions without demonstrating a love of freedom.  Clearly there is a problem.  But nobody ever asked for there not to be problems.  Freedom is worth problems.  Science is worth problems. 

It all seems to be a very good thing.  There are people willing to put scientific rigor above other considerations. 

We may have a chance yet.

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