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Science facing up to religious beliefs

On the 4th of May at the University of Granada, the biochemist Juan Antonio Mochón, will be giving the talk “Science facing up to religious beliefs” as part of the monthly series of talks Knowledge, rationality and secularism that is running till June of this year.

The talk will be followed by a discussion among the attendees.

Netherlands: 50% officially not religious

Author Franca Treur (atheist) and presenter Tijs van den Brink (Protestant) discuss religion in TV series “Adieu God?” (2013)

For the first time in Dutch history, the official number of religious and irreligious people is equal, Statistics Netherlands (CBS) reports.  The percentage of religiously affiliated citizens above age 18 dropped from 55% in 2010 to 50% last year, a turning point in the ongoing process of secularisation. The current figures are:

  • Roman Catholicism: 24%
  • Protestantism (various denominations): 15%
  • Islam: 5%
  • Other (incl. Judaism, Hinduism and Buddhism): 5%
  • Unaffiliated: 50%

There are large geographical differences, with the more urbanised West (North and South Holland) being the most secular, the southern provinces of North Brabant and Limburg being the most (nominally) Catholic.

Church service in Doornspijk, the Bible Belt. (Rubenf CC-BY-SA 3.0)

Only 1 in 6 people still regularly attend religious services though. In the conservative Protestant Bible Belt, running across the country from the southwest to the northeast, this figure is higher, sometimes over half, and in the case of Urk 94%.

The actual percentage of believers is much lower than 50%, however. A lot of people still registered as members of a church are actually not religious (anymore), but for various reasons have not officially renounced their membership (yet) – a phenomenon known as ‘belonging without believing’. An earlier 2016 survey by Bernts & Berghuijs showed that people’s actual religious convictions were as follows:

  • Roman Catholicism: 11.7%
  • Protestant Church in the Netherlands: 8.6%
  • Other Christian denominations: 4.2%
  • Islam: 5.8%
  • Hinduism and Buddhism: 2.0%
  • Unaffiliated: 67.8%

This shows a big disconnect between membership and actual adherence. Especially the Catholic Church often claims that a quarter of the Dutch population is Catholic, pointing to the official stats, but when questioned, fewer than half that number associate themselves with the Roman faith.

2009 Dutch atheist billboard: ‘There’s probably no god. Dare to think for yourself and enjoy this life!’

According to Bernts & Berghuijs, their attitudes regarding the existence of (a) god(s) were:

  • Atheism: 24% (I don’t believe in gods)
  • Agnosticism: 34% (I don’t know if there are gods or not)
  • Ietsism: 28% (I don’t believe in gods, but there must be something higher/supernatural/more than we can observe)
  • Theism: 14% (I believe there is a God / are gods)

A December 2014 survey showed a similar reversal in public opinion, when for the first time in the Netherlands’ history, more than half of people (63%) thought that religion does more harm than good.

Why fact-checking news reports is important

Viralgranskaren (‘The Viral Monitor’) is a standing column of the Swedish branch of the international freesheet newspaper Metro (that is also originally from Sweden). They specialise in finding out whether viral videos and stories are actually true, and encourage people to fact-check before sharing something on social media.

On 18 November 2016, they created both a Swedish and an English version of a video explaining why fact-checking news reports is important.

The example they give is of a story that went viral in late October 2016. It was based on a real news article from Sveriges Television (SVT). However, xenophobic conspiracy right-wing websites, blogs, shock-logs etc., especially outside Sweden (e.g. Infowars), seized upon the article – that didn’t even mention Islam, Muslims or refugees – to claim that decorative Christmas lights were ‘banned to avoid offending Muslim migrants’. (more…)

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Swedish Humanists criticizes the visit of Pope Francis

The Swedish Humanist society protested the current visit of Pope Francis in Sweden. Hours before a sermon held by Pope Francis at the Cathedral of Lund, Sweden on October 31, activists posted a poster containing ten theses on the Cathedral door, mimicking Martin Luther’s protest 500 years ago. The poster was swiftly removed by church officials, but contained a call for reforming the Catholic church regarding:

  1. Equality for Women
  2. Equality for LBTQ persons
  3. Freedom of religion for children
  4. Full right for women to decide about their own bodies
  5. A stop for the opposition to contraceptives
  6. Every human’s right to euthanasia
  7. All child abuse to be reported to the authorities
  8. A stop for blocking certain scientific research, especially stem cell research
  9. A stop for the doctrine of the infallibility of the Pope
  10. Each person’s right to define their own moral code.

Catholic Church to raise standard for miracles

Francis canonising John XXIII and John Paul II in 2014. (Jeffrey Bruno/Aleteia CC-BY-SA 2.0).

‘Under the current rules, the Vatican declares something a ‘miracle’ if more than 50% of all experts (several dozens) vote in favour,’ the Dutch (Protestant-leaning) newspaper Trouw reports. ‘That bar will be raised to 66%.’ Apparently, the pope still doesn’t realise you can’t just suspend the laws of nature by majority vote.

Interestingly, the paper adds that ‘the number of miracles was already declining in recent decades – possibly because doctors can explain more and more’, implying that declaring something a ‘miracle’ may be nothing more than an argument from ignorance.

Date: 4th October 2016

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