Messerly begins by noting that only 14 percent of philosophers are theists and a large majority are atheists (based on the Chalmers' study which everyone in the philosophical community is aware of. One thing Messerly doesn't note is that most people who actually study the arguments for/against theism/religion are theists--that is, most philosophers of religion--incline towards theism. Does this prove anything of note? Not that I can see).
I suspect the actual numbers of theistic philosophers are a bit higher, but there's no doubt that theists are in the minority...that is, today. Of course the past was chock full of theistic/religious philosophers as well as scientists. And what will the future hold? Messerly promises us that in the future virtually no educated person will believe in the supernatural. Moreover, science will even conquer death (!) which will be "the coup d'etat over religion." No doubt Messerly believes all of this on the basis of reason, not faith. Or so one might be lead to believe.
Here are some excerpts with commentary:
Genes and environment explain human beliefs and behaviors—people do things because they are genomes in environments. The near universal appeal of religious belief suggests a biological component to religious beliefs and practices, and science increasingly confirms this view. There is a scientific consensus that our brains have been subject to natural selection.Do genes and environmental conditions sufficiently explain beliefs and behaviors? I see no good evidence to think that. Of course if they did, then they'd also explain naturalistic, scientific, etc. doxastic states as well. Also, note the appeal to the scientific consensus regarding natural selection. I'll allude to that later.
Today there are two basic explanations offered. One says that religion evolved by natural selection—religion is an adaptation that provides an evolutionary advantage. For example religion may have evolved to enhance social cohesion and cooperation—it may have helped groups survive. The other explanation claims that religious beliefs and practices arose as byproducts of other adaptive traits.Once again, if there is any argument implicit here against religion, it's equally applicable to atheism, quantum physics, etc. Furthermore, the two explanations offered are perfectly compatible with religious beliefs being true and rational--not that Messerly gives any indication that this is so; rather, he seems to think that there's an argument here against religion that should be taken seriously. But it's hard to see what that argument might be.
In addition to the biological basis for religious belief, there are environmental explanations. It is self-evident from the fact that religions are predominant in certain geographical areas but not others, that birthplace strongly influences religious belief.It's hardly a self-evident truth that birthplace strongly influences religious belief given the existence of a mere correlation, but let's grant the causal connection ("influence") on the basis of the correlation anyhow. What then follows? Nothing that I can see of interest. We also know that you're more likely to be an atheist/naturalist if you live in a man-made city, if you are from a 1st world country, if your parents are atheists, if you have faith in the Enlightenment, etc. Nothing then follows about the truth-value or rationality of atheism/naturalism.
[I'm now skipping his statistics which correlate bad behavior/living conditions with religion since at least as much counter evidence can be produced depending on what one counts as good/bad behavior/living conditions].
More than three times as many Americans believe in the virgin birth of Jesus than in biological evolution, although few theologians take the former seriously, while no serious biologist rejects the latter!Consider too that scientists don’t take surveys of the public to determine whether relativity or evolutionary theory are true; their truth is assured by the evidence as well as by resulting technologies—global positioning and flu vaccines work.Those silly Americans (so much more vulgar than their enlightened European equivalents). How dare they not take Messerly's word for it! How dare they not base their belief on the surveys which show what biologists believe! (Aside: most of the evidence scientists rely on is testimony. Most of what scientists believe comes from reading textbooks in school, journal articles in the profession, etc. This isn't to say that the testimony is unreliable. But it's not like most scientists have direct evidence for, say, the thesis that natural selection is the sole mechanism of evolution or that there's a sufficient causal explanation at the chemical level for life.)
It is arrogant of those with no scientific credentials and no experience in the field or laboratory, to reject the hard-earned knowledge of the science. Still they do it.Some questions: Why think it's arrogant rather than ignorant? On the basis of what scientific credentials should one believe Messerly? Is it arrogant to reject the hard-earned knowledge of theologians? Are scientists always right? Does science ever change? Are scientists immune from bias when it comes to claims intersecting with religion?
I agree with W.K. Clifford. “It is wrong always, everywhere and for everyone to believe anything upon insufficient evidence.”Well, I'm not with Clifford! If I were to agree with him, I'd be doing something wrong in thinking that it's always wrong to believe anything with insufficient evidence since I don't have sufficient evidence to believe that proposition is true. And I don't relish doing wrong things (probably because of some fortuitous evolutionary accident).
OK, that's enough. If anyone wants to point out anything important or worrisome for religion in this article that I haven't mentioned, I'm all ears. In other words, if anyone thinks there is an argument here worth considering, go ahead and spell it out. I'm too dumb (or lazy) to do so.