Friday, April 28, 2006

Psi-lent Night?

This post is part of an ongoing dialog between my friend Ernie and me about the validity of Christian belief.

In my last post, Cheating a Dread Course, I expressed some frustration with our progress. (The title, like Heating a Red Porsche, is another nonsense rhyme for "beating a dead horse".) In Hell. Why Not? Ernie has tried to move things along by listing (in non-theological terms) a number of assertions, and inviting questions and comments about them that might lead to a more focused discussion.

Now Ernie readily admits that, at this point, these are just assertions. By framing the ideas using the terminology of physics, Ernie appears to be providing an explanation for why eternal hell might be "justified"; that is, why it might be an inevitable consequence of the laws of ultimate reality. There are a number of ways that I can respond to this.

First, while acknowledging that this theory may possibly reflect reality (in that it is not obviously incoherent), I could ask what evidence Ernie can give to support this theory. What falsifiable predictions can it make? Is there any way that the psi field can be observed, and especially, can it be observed after a person has died? As it relates to the discussion of eternal damnation, this is a pretty critical part. Additionally, if the field represents the accumulated choices of an individual, and this field decays to an eigenstate after death, does there remain any choice? If so, why would the field not continue to evolve, and therefore not remain in the eigenstate? Does there remain a distinguishable individual?

Second, does the anti-aligned eigenstate correlate with experienced pain? By framing the discussion in terms of fields, we are in danger of overlooking this important quality of damnation. Particles feel no pain. People do.

Third, Ernie believes that choice is real. Is Omega a person? Does Omega have real choices? Did Omega create man? If Omega is our creator and has choice, then Omega is morally culpable for the eternal pain experienced in by anti-aligned psi fields (oops, I mean damned people) unless Omega provides a mechanism whereby this end can be reliably avoided, and this mechanism must be reliably knowable.

That leads directly to my fourth response. Even if all of this were true, what reasons can Ernie offer that Omega is identical to the god of Christianity, or that being a Christian (whatever that means) is a reliable way (let alone the only way) to guarantee decay into an Omega-aligned eigenstate?

My overall feeling, as I stated earlier, is that Ernie is attempting to provide an explanation why eternal heaven and eternal hell might possibly be necessary consequences to choices we make here. Casting the discussion into the terminology of physics is an unusual approach to the problem, but most of the questions I just posed have direct analogs when posed in more classical frames. For instance, free will is commonly offered as an explanation for the problem of evil. But if this is so, then either there will be evil in heaven or else no free will in heaven. (In case it is not clear, this is related to the question above about the evolution of the psi field after it initially decays.)

On the other hand, Ernie goes beyond saying his statements "might possibly" be true to saying that he believes them to be true. Does he believe them because they are implied by more basic beliefs, or are these his basic beliefs? Or are there some of each?

Ernie asked me to be explicit about the comprehensibility, internal consistency, logical validity and external consistency of his position. I think I comprehend it. Given its assumptions, it appears logically valid, but the assumptions seem rather ad hoc and perhaps cross into being internally inconsistent. (I am thinking here of the psi field decaying and remaining eternally in an eigenstate, when the psi field is supposed to reflect the accumulation of an individual's choices.) His position does not correspond to anything that I "know" is true, and corresponds only weakly to anything I believe. It does seem fairly consistent with Christian orthodoxy, although there is rather little explanation so far as to how the specific details of Christianity map onto these assertions.

Ernie also asked me to clarify my own beliefs about a number of issues.

First, is choice real? I do not know how we could tell. What experiment could I do that would show that I could have done something other than what I did? Having said that, practically it seems like a good idea to act as if choice is real. If it is not, well, then we cannot do anything about what we do anyway.

Second, is moral tao objective or subjective? I believe there are objective, but not necessarily universal or transcendent, moral standards; in particular, I do not believe there is a capitalized Moral Law that enforces consequences for our choices. For those entering this conversation late, The (No So) Terrible Tao's describes this in slightly more detail.

Third, does mathematical reality exist independent of physical reality? Well, I think mathematical theorems are true independent of any physical reality. They are still contingent on the foundational axioms. In the sense of real vs. imaginary beliefs that Ernie has proposed, they are real; that is, their truth is not contingent on anyone believing them. So, at least in those senses I would say that mathematical reality exists. I am considerably less inclined to say that a separate social or moral reality exists, but Ernie did not ask about that, even though he has mentioned it several times.

Fourth, does anybody ever deserve to be in any kind of hell? My intuitive moral sense says that yes, some people deserve punishment. However, it would never be eternal or otherwise infinite punishment. That same intuitive moral sense says that punishment for disbelieving something unbelievable is not deserved. And whether or not the punishment is deserved, there would need to be some other reason to believe it actually occurs. I think that belief in hell evolved in response to the evident unfairness of this life; people want to believe that balance will be restored. When we have emotional biases for believing something, we should examine reasons for belief all the more critically.

Looking back over all I have written tonight, I am not sure I provided very good guidance for Ernie on what he should next address. There are three major questions. Why does he believe the statements he made? (Are they basic beliefs or are they justified by reason and evidence?) How does he connect them to Christianity specifically? Finally, how does he answer the questions I raised about the details of his assertions? (That is, the questions about individuality and continued choice, about a personal Omega with choice and responsibility, about anti-alignment and pain.)

I am looking forward to further explanation.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Cheating a Dread Course

This post is part of an ongoing dialog between my friend Ernie and me about the validity of Christian belief.

After a brief respite, Ernie responded last Friday in Systemic Failure to my last post in our conversation, Getting Back on Track. While he agreed that "we seem to have lost our way", I take issue with this:

I remain concerned that Alan doesn't seem able to articulate a coherent ontological position as an alternative to Christianity...

I wonder what Ernie found to be incoherent. If he had said "incomplete" I would complain less, because I do not claim to have answers to every question, but incoherent implies something incomprehensible or even contradictory. Perhaps Ernie chose his wording carelessly; if there is something he finds incoherent, it would be better to ask for clarification.

With that out of the way, and in complete disregard of any of my suggestions for how to continue, Ernie has moved us on to the topic of ethics. (We did, however, raise that as a possible direction several months ago.) Fine.

Ernie ends thusly:

In this context, I define "ethics" as theories about how to optimally structure Social Systems, relatively to whatever purpose or metric(s) those theories define.

Thus, our respective challenge is not to defend the existence of such systems, but both to define our criteria for a successful ethics, and defend why our particular framework is optimal for achieving that.

Fair enough? And are you comfortable that this is both necessary and sufficient to answer the ethical questions you are concerned with?

That is quite a challenge. Is it sufficient? Probably. Is it necessary? I think not. Philosophers far smarter and more expert than me (I won't speak for Ernie) have argued over ethics for centuries without resolution. I am hoping we can make some progress in less time than that.

Back when we were discussing hell (here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here at which point we pretty much trailed off into epistemology), I made a number of ethical assertions which I think were relatively simple and reasonable. For instance, back in Bringing Back the Draft I said

I believe that it is fundamentally unjust to punish someone eternally for choices he makes based on uncertain, incomplete and seemingly contradictory or incoherent information, while being subject to imperfect rationality, having only a finite amount of time and while lacking any methodology, process or other means to overcome these limitations.

Later, I restated this in Hell and Justice, Redux as

God is unjust if he imposes eternal punishment for the actions/beliefs of limited people operating on limited information in limited time. God is also unjust if he imposes punishment for someone's innate nature.

Still later in No Fair, N'est Pas?, I said

Second, my argument rests on the disproportionate consequence of eternal (infinite) damnation for choices made by temporal (finite) men, and as I noted previously, this is in contrast to the consequences we experience in (this) life.

Ernie, in Ernie's Ethical Inferno said:

Since Alan has so patiently and valiantly attempted to answer all my questions, I will finally answer his: "Do I believe in hell?" The short answer is:

Yes, I do believe that the Biblical descriptions of an eternal hell do refer to some sort of meaningful objective reality that await non-believers.

However -- and this is crucial to his question -- I actually think the biblical evidence for such a state is somewhat amibguous; rather, it is the philosophical evidence (based on my understanding of choice and justice) which convinces me hell exists. That isn't to say I "know" hell exists (much less could "prove" it), just that this is what I "believe."

There have been several other occasions where Ernie has claimed he could support various claims scripturally, historically, anthropologically, psychologically, or philosophically and sometimes all of those. But so far, that support has not been provided. I have asked Ernie on numerous occasions to describe how philosophical considerations can provide support for far more specific beliefs, especially those rooted in historical events. See, for instance, Heating a Red Porsche as well as several of my recent posts. Ernie, if you need a long detour through epistemology, ontology and ethics to support your case, take your time and have at it. I do not think the questions are that hard, or require that much intellectual machinery to answer.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Who Pushed the Button?

Blogging has been on the back burner for a week now, with a few different ideas simmering. Ernie appears to be busy with other things, so I really should be taking this time to cover some topics not so directly related to our ongoing conversation. I want to cover very briefly some thoughts I have on various arguments for the existence of God.

The details of various ontological, teleological, cosmological, moral and other arguments for God can be found in numerous places; I linked to Wikipedia but has a large body of material too, ranked even higher by Google than Wikipedia. So I am not going to cover the details. What I want to address instead is, even supposing one or more of these arguments were compelling, what would that tell us?

The ontological argument would tell us that God is the greatest. Cosmological and teleological arguments might tell us that God is creative. Moral arguments might tell us that God is moral, or at least that he authored morality. But I have already claimed too much. Do any of these arguments actually require that god be singular? The ontological argument, as I understand it, might require multiple gods to be equal. Teleological arguments (arguments from design) on the other hand have been used (only half in jest) to suggest that there are in fact multiple designers, since some of the design is so poor that it must be the work of a committee.

What if I found one or more of these arguments compelling? Would I return to Christianity? No. I would be a Deist or perhaps a panentheist. These sorts of arguments are plainly insufficient to prove Christianity true, because they are not specific to Christianity. Even if Christianity were the only theistic religion in existence, they would be insufficient because these arguments demonstrate no need for religion. Christianity rests on the truth of more specific claims. (What claims those are will depend on exactly what flavor of Christianity you are describing.)

As it happens, I think that the ontological argument is complete bunk. The cosmological, teleological and moral arguments are inconclusive at best. But they do not particularly concern me because they have no practical implications. The most that they can establish is the existence of a (possibly) disinterested creator, a god that "pushed the button" and then left. To believe more than that requires more specific evidence, and the evidence for Christianity is simply not there.

4, 8, 15, 16, 23, 42. Push the button.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Getting Back on Track

This post is part of an ongoing dialog between my friend Ernie and me about the validity of Christian belief.

Where does nature end and the supernatural begin? In "Naturalism" and "Mysticism" Are Dead Ernie argues that the opposite of naturalism is mysticism, and further that one can conceive of a sort of naturalism where there is still room for theism. In particular, the uncertainties and other features associated with quantum mechanics may allow for both consciousness and choice, and that these same or similear features might be invoked to describe how God and other "supernatural" entities might exist within a naturalistic framework.

Now, the subject of naturalism was brought up because Ernie wanted me to advance a theory to compete with his theory of Christianity (see A Theory, Not a Law toward the bottom), and I replied in Wait, Er, Check Please? that if I had to choose something to advance, I would choose naturalism. I also questioned trying to contrast theories about ultimate reality, preferring observable reality instead, and that has lead to this tangent on various kinds of universes and so on. While these are interesting ideas, I think we are getting afield from where we ought to be focusing.

Is it possible that God, Satan, angels and demons are in some sense "natural" because they interact with us through some as yet unknown processes? Sure. If that means that naturalism and theism are not fundamentally incompatible, that presents no problem to me. Regardless, it remains my premise that there is insufficient reason to believe that a god of any sort exists, and especially not the god of Christianity. If you want another "ism" to describe this point of view, I would suggest "skepticism". However, skepticism cannot be viewed as a theory with explanatory power that could be contrasted with Ernie's theism.

Again, where does that leave us? Well, I still wonder about how Ernie can believe in Christianity on philosophical grounds without also including historical considerations (if that is in fact an accurate description of Ernie's position). I can develop my eight arguments that I listed way back in Claim Check: Introduction. Ernie could offer some evidence or other reasons to believe. Also, way back in EEE Is Not a Shoe Size, I offered four topics, one of which Ernie rejected because we have no agreed-upon ethical framework, but the other three are, I believe, still possibilities.

All told, these are topics I have suggested for further discussion:

  1. The Bible is (is not) an honest and reliable document.
  2. Social good is (is not) evidence for the truth of Christianity.
  3. Christianity is (is not) best explained as a solely human construction.
  4. My eight assertions (which overlap with the first three items in this list
  5. Philosophical vs. historical considerations
  6. Whatever Ernie would like to advance as evidence for Christianity

What is your preference, Ernie?

Monday, April 10, 2006

Deep Thought: What Was the Question?

This post is part of an ongoing dialog between my friend Ernie and me about the validity of Christian belief.

You know, sometimes I get really frustrated with my ability to communicate. My last post, Is There Universal Agreement? took me a full three hours to write, which works out less than one byte per second, including HTML markup. And judging by Ernie's response, Ontologically Correct, the rate at which I actually communicated my intended meaning was rather less than that. Hopefully I can correct some of that tonight.

The majority of Ernie's reply is aimed at the latter half of my post, in which I gave my reaction to his proposed trinitarian universe, where one can meaningfully speak of a material universe, a rational universe and a spiritual universe. (Can there be more?) Now Ernie had also proposed, and I agreed with, this definition:

The universe is the objective reality behind our subjective experience.

Note that the definition speaks of the universe and the subjective reality. Singular. But yet we also have, potentially, three universes related to (according to Ernie) three kinds of experience. In his prior post, The Universe, And Three Examples he used the term "sub-divinity" to refer to the cosmoverse, logoverse and (by implication) the pneumaverse. I could go on, but the point I am trying to make is that we see to be in danger of going off of the deep end, where we will next begin to discuss what the definition of "is" is.

Let me put it this way. I am skeptical of classifying our experiences as simply sensations, cogitations and emotions, as if an experience can be only one of these. They are abstractions, yes, that we can use to categorize our experiences, but when those abstractions become the basis for separate but inter-related universes, it seems to me that the universes that result are conceptual models or linguistic constructs. They are ways to "classify reality" in some loose sense, but not necessarily because there are really these separate or even separate-but-connected realities.

Perhaps with sufficient care in our definitions we could make progress here. From where I sit, it does not look promising.

Still, I will try to answer some points Ernie makes.

Now, if I understand Alan correctly, he is asserting naturalism, which in this context appears to mean:

5-A. The character of economic divinity is identical to that of physical reality

Which would seem to imply conceptual and relational experiences are illusions created by physical processes, and do not reflect any underlying reality. Thus, "there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so." Further, it would imply that the statement "It is Better to Believe Truth than Choose Self-Deception" is a non sequitor. Is that a valid inference, Alan?

I don't deny Alan's right to make such an assertion, but I would like to point out that it is essentially a religious assertion, and a fairly strong one at that. Also, I find it completely inconsistent with his earlier assertions about Truth and Choice -- not to mention Good -- so I worry that I may have missed a definition somewhere along the way.

I am not entirely following Ernie here, but then he's worried he's not following me, so we are probably both right. Let me try to clear things up. First of all, I have tried to be clear that my assertion of naturalism is of a tentative sort, wherein I do not think there is sufficient reason to go beyond naturalism. I do not pretend that I can provide entirely satisfying natural explanations for everything: consciousness and choice are good examples of concepts that have no compelling natural explanation (that I know of). My comments about the possibility that there is no true choice were not intended to be an assertion that there is no true choice, only that it is possible. If so, we would have to make some adjustments to our concept of morality, though I think such adjustments may be possible without discarding the concept of morality altogether. (Please note the abundance of "weasel-words": "I think", "may be possible", "altogether".)

Is that still a strong, religious assertion? It seems anything but strong to me to say that something is merely possible.

Apparently I need to clarify this statement:

Positing a separate spiritual existence to explain them does make things easier, but it strikes me as being very much a sort of "God of the gaps" explanation when we attribute to something "unnatural" anything we cannot (yet) explain.

Ernie responded:

To be sure, Alan might counter that my assertion of the existence of relational and conceptual reality is similarly religious. However, I would riposte that -- unless he is willing to a priori deny the validity of mental and emotional experiences -- it is merely an inevitable consequence of our definition. There is no "God in the gaps" here -- in fact, there is no god at all, yet; merely an inference from empirical observations.

We seem to be coming at this from very different angles. I am (or was) viewing the "pneumaverse" as a kind of separate-but-connected reality, a la Cartesian-dualism, where the soul/spirit/identity of a person resides. That kind of universe cannot, as far as I can tell, be an inevitable consequence of our definition. As I reflect on this now and as I look back on how Ernie originally defined pneumaverse, I think it likely that I misunderstood Ernie here and that I am still not grasping his use of the terms "universe" and "real" and "independent". And "is". :-)

So I have to ask again, how do we proceed? I raised several questions and possible avenues for continuing, which Ernie kindly summarized. If he has touched on the first two questions he listed, the ones concerning historical truth vs. philosophical considerations and concerning whether belief in God is real, imaginary or complex, I missed it. I am truly curious about both of these, though I suspect the first one has greater potential for developing our common understanding. Can you respond to those, Ernie?

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Is There Universal Agreement?

This post is part of an ongoing dialog between my friend Ernie and me about the validity of Christian belief.

Never get behind. That was good advice when I was in school, and it seems to apply to "diablogues" too. I was ahead, now Ernie has two posts that I need to respond to, Double-Check and The Universe, and Three Examples. In hopes of getting us back to a single thread, I will try to address both of these tonight.

Double-Check is a response to my earlier post Claim Check: Introduction, in which I presented eight statements that (when elaborated and substantiated) I assert provide good reason to reject Christian belief. Ernie subsequently asked me to present an alternative belief system, rather than simply knocking down Christianity, which has lead rather quickly to discussions of the nature of reality. More on that later.

In Double-Check, Ernie reduces my argument to two premises plus the conclusion and grants that the (simplied) argument would be true and valid given some definitions and assumptions, but claims, admittedly nothing more than assertion at this point, that he can provide alternative definitions and assumptions that would avoid my critique and provide superior explanatory power. I am not clear if he would make that same claim in relation to the eight-statement version of the argument, though I expect he would. One possible way forward, then, is to flesh out the necessary definitions and assumptions and compare. Hold that thought.

Moving on to The Universe, And Three Examples, Ernie attempts to answer several of my questions, all of which (in his view) can be reduced to the question "What is real?". Almost parenthetically, he makes this statement:

I also want to point out that I am starting from philosophy, not theology. That is, I trust the Bible because it explains the divinity I observe, not vice versa. To me, the Bible is a reflection of belief in God, not the cause; a subtle but crucial distinction we may need to revisit.

In some ways, I do not find this statement unsurprising, given what he has said previously about how he views the Bible and other historical considerations. I do hope, though, that he will elaborate on this, because it seems to me that Christianity relies on some historical events (like the resurrection), and it is difficult to see how the truth of a historical account can be established by philosophical considerations.

I had asked Ernie to clarify the apparent discrepancy between his statements that belief in God is partly imaginary and that divinity is what is ultimately, non-contingently real. He responds:

In particular, to Alan's question (c), I can easily have contingent "imaginary" beliefs about "real" objects that (even if they are not 'divine') are not contingent, at least on me. For example, the statement "The stars will not frighten me" is only true if I believe it, and thus qualifies as an imaginary statement by my definition; but, that hardly means the stars are imaginary!

In other worlds, real entities can be the object of both real and imaginary beliefs, whereas fictional entities are always the object of imaginary beliefs (unless we assign nominal reality to a fictional universe, purely as an artistic convention).

In his original definition of imaginary beliefs, he said:

Belief A is imaginary if A is true if and only if someone believes A is true

Now I think we might be having a little trouble here because the phrase "belief in God" is not too specific about what the actual belief is. I had taken it to mean that one believes "God exists", perhaps with some associated defining attributes. If we substitute that for A we get:

The belief "God exists" is imaginary if "God exists" is true if and only if someone believes "God exists" is true.

Or, more colloquially,

The belief "God exists" is imaginary if God exists if and only if someone believes God exists.

The example that Ernie gives addresses a belief about one's reaction to stars, not about stars themselves, and unfortunately does nothing to reduce my confusion over the two statements I contrasted. Where did I go wrong? Can you try again, Ernie?

I am comfortable with Ernie's definition of the universe as "the objective reality behind our subjective experience and his brief elaboration on that. He describes three different candidate universes: material, rational and spiritual. Naturally I accept the existence of the material universe. (Get it? "Naturally.") As far as the rational universe goes, while being familiar with viewing it in this way, I cannot say I really grok it. Similarly, to describe the spiritual universe as being "inhabited by concepts such as Choice, Character, Good, Justice, Beauty and Love" makes some sense (to me) as a bit of metaphor, but not as a description of (a) reality. The questions that Ernie supposes I would ask are pretty accurate. I tend to view those things as abstractions that have a sort of shared, subjective reality, but not an objective reality.

(In David Brin's Uplift series there are, if I recall correctly, five levels of hyperspace and the highest (or is it the lowest) is described in Heaven's Reach as being inhabited by metaphors, memes and other linguistic constructs and conceptual abstractions. It did make for entertaining reading.)

Ernie describes "trinitarian theism", which has (as I hope I understand it), nothing to do with "The Trinity" of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, but the three universes he described. Naturalism then differs from theism by denying the existence of the third (spiritual) universe. Ernie claims that

In its extreme form, this becomes nihilism, in that it asserts that 'choice' and 'good' are merely subjective feelings we project onto the universe, without any objective reality.

This is a topic that I have been pondering. Richard Carrier, in his debate with Tom Wanchick, advanced "The Argument from Mind-Brain Dysteleology" in which he claims (among other things) that a functioning physical brain is necessary for consciousness and mental function. His further claim that this is not expected under theism did not strike me as entirely solid, but the important point here is that it does raise the question, if it is entirely physical process what room is left for choice? I am not, in fact, convinced we have choice, even if I have no choice (get it?) but to act as if I do. How would I know? So when Ernie expects me to define and defend a position on this, my tentative position is still naturalism, that conciousness and behavior and choice (or the illusion thereof) are all manifestations of purely physical processes. Positing a separate spiritual existence to explain them does make things easier, but it strikes me as being very much a sort of "God of the gaps" explanation when we attribute to something "unnatural" anything we cannot (yet) explain.

Along these same lines, there was an interesting post on Debunking Christianity a few weeks ago titled The Soul--A Rational Belief?. The claim is made that our person, our identity, is tied up with our physical brains, and that if you posit a separate spiritual consciousness, the burden of proof is on you to defend why the person would remain the same after the physical brain is dead. (The original is better than my short summary here. Sorry, it's gotten late.)

Where does that leave us? I would like Ernie to elaborate further on his statement about starting from philosophy, particularly how that relates to historical considerations. I can return to developing my eight (or so) supporting arguments. We can talk about choice (free will) and related implications for goodness and morality. Ernie could present arguments supporting the reality of a spiritual universe. Anything else?

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Carrier-Wanchick Debate Final Statements

Just a quick note: The final statements in the Carrier-Wanchick Naturalism vs. Theism Debate are now (finally) available. Evaluations by the four judges are due in two weeks.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Miscellaneous Statistics

There are a few blogs that I read pretty consistently: Dispatches from the Culture Wars, Pharyngula, The Intersection, Real Climate, Panda's Thumb, The Secular Outpost, Debunking Christianity, Ars Technica, Mike the Mad Biologist, The Old New Thing, The Questionable Authority and Unclaimed Territory. As you might guess from the titles, some relate to culture and politics, some science, some religion (or atheism), some computer- and technology-related. Some contain quite a bit of crossover.

Several of these have in the past couple of weeks touched on a recent study performed by researchers at the University of Minnesota that examined how various religious and ethnic groups are viewed by Americans. One of the groups included was atheists, and for those of us who fall into that group, the results are not particularly encouraging. In Who's Counting, an online ABC News column by John Allen Paulos, you can find this summary of the results of the study. That same article also discusses the Liberty University debate team, which has gotten some press recently for being the "top-ranked" debate team in the country, another topic that has been heavily covered by Dispatches from the Culture Wars in particular. (The ranking system is highly misleading.)

On the subject of statistics of dubious worth, I was at our local Borders bookstore on Saturday night, checking to see if they had any of several books that I have been meaning to read someday. (They didn't.) But I did find a new section of books in the religion section: atheism. How could I have missed it before? Well...

I counted the number of shelves devoted to various subjects:

  • 120: Christianity
  • 29: "Metaphysics", which apparently includes palm reading, tarot cards, and everything New Age-ish that is not otherwise included below. Somebody better tell the philosophers.
  • 8: Magical Studies (yes, that's what it said)
  • 7: Buddhism
  • 7: Other Eastern religions (Zen, Hindu, ...)
  • 4: Judaism
  • 3: Astrology
  • 2.5: Islam
  • 0.5: Atheism

If I recall correctly, the percentage of the US population composed of self-reported atheists is somewhere in the low single-digits, something like 3-5%, so if there were a "fair" representation, there should something like seven shelves on atheism. A number of possible conclusions occur to me, none particularly serious.

  • Most atheists cannot read
  • Most atheists cannot write
  • Most atheists already know everything
  • Most atheists do not shop at Borders
  • Most atheists are broke
  • There are no real atheists
  • There is only so much you can write about not believing something