Mormons and the Rise of the Nones

In the various demographic posts I’ve done I’ve mentioned that the significant change since the mid-90’s in American religious makeup is the rise of the Nones. This is a group that not only includes atheists and agnostics but also those somewhat religious but turned off from organized religion. My sense, perhaps incorrect, is that were we to include those people who are Protestants, Catholics or other sects but who know little about their faith and rarely participate that the size of the Nones would be significantly higher. According to Pew only about half of those who seldom or never attend religious ceremonies self-identify with a particular religious affiliation. This is a drop of 10 points from 2002 to 2012. As Pew notes, “Americans who rarely go to services are more willing than in the past to drop their religious attachments altogether.”

With regards to Mormons it’s hard to know how many of those who leave Mormonism move into the Nones. That’s partially due to the very nature of Mormonism such that there are numerous converts. While I don’t know the exact statistics it’s usually thought that the majority of these converts don’t stay within Mormonism for long. A better figure are those raised Mormon. Most studies put Mormon retention of raised members between 64% and 72%. Of those approximately 30% who leave Mormonism Pew has about half (14% of total) joining the Nones. So about 14% of Mormon end up joining the Nones, ignoring those long term converts who choose to leave. I’m not sure it’s fair to count recent converts who don’t stay in Mormonism as leaving Mormonism in any strong sense.1 However people who’ve been a member for over eight years who leave do seem more significant. I’ve just not seen any statistics on this group. I’d expect the rates to be below the retention of raised members simply due to the changes that happen in ones early 20’s in terms of forming ones own beliefs and identity. That’s just a guess though.

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  1. While I don’t have contemporary statistics some studies published in the 90’s suggest over half go inactive and most of those within the first 8 months.

Ordinal Polytheism

Ordinal polytheism. A view of God motivated by cosmological and design arguments as well as Lewis’ modal realism and Leibniz. (HT: Blake Ostler) The main aspect some might find interesting is that there are no maximally perfect Gods ala traditional Leibniz. Where I suspect people like Blake find it interesting is in this:

Ordinal polytheism argues for an infinite plurality of gods. Unlike earlier polytheisms, ordinal polytheism does not posit more than one god at our universe. On the contrary, it associates our universe with exactly one god. This is our local god (or, to use the term actual indexically, it is the actual god). But ordinal polytheists will argue that our local god depends for its existence and its nature on prior gods. And they will argue that our local god has a counterpart at every possible concrete universe.

We should however note that what’s going on in modal logic where there’s a different world for every possibility. So we have to be careful here. I’m skeptical this has much to do with Mormon thought.

The Adjunct Professor Controversy

Interesting point about the problem at universities of low paid adjunct professors. Most of these people could get very good paying jobs if they’d give up on the academic career path. (This is true for many people – I’m quite glad I didn’t pursue the academic career path) “If PhD grads aren’t qualified to the point of being responsible for their labor mistakes, who is?” None of this is to ignore the problem of the administration of universities and structural problems. Just to note those playing the game ought know the game.

Why Physics Needs Philosophy

Nice post by Tim Maudlin at the PBS Nova blog about why physics needs philosophy. (HT: Maverick Philosopher)

The reigning attitude in physics has been “shut up and calculate”: solve the equations, and do not ask questions about what they mean.  But putting computation ahead of conceptual clarity can lead to confusion.

This idea of clarifying concepts has long been seen by many as what philosophy can offer science. Even those who might be skeptical of some of the philosophical approaches to this do recognize the problem of “just calculate.” The idea of instrumentalism, perhaps popularized in physics due to Richard Feynman’s embrace of the idea, is a bit problematic. For one I don’t think all or even most physicists see their goals as merely instrumentalist. Too many physicists are interested in Truth in my experience. Maybe physicists can’t get absolutely at truth but they certainly are aiming at it.

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Nobel Prizes and Religion

A few weeks ago over at Dan Peterson’s blog someone raised the issue of Nobel Prizes and religious belief.1 The claim there was silly — someone asserted that only one Nobel Prize winner was a theist which was easy to show false. The question of how many science winners were religious is a bit trickier to establish. A few weeks back I’d discussed a few studies of religion and scientists. It can be tricky to narrow the question down. Often there’s a big difference between those in medicine and those in hard science for instance. Further elite scientists are often simply narrowed to those at elite colleges which can be somewhat problematic for various reasons. The question of major prize winners is an interesting one even if ultimately I’m not sure it really tells us much about religion.

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  1. This was in the comment section. Dan uses Disqus. There are many benefits to Disqus comments but finding and linking to the relevant comment isn’t one of its strengths sadly. Although maybe I’m just missing the technique. I also find that posting comments from an iPad doesn’t work well in that system.

Converts per Missionary

Roger Terry has some very good analysis of the demographics of missionary work and converts to Mormonism. The basic focus is on the number of converts per missionary in general along with recent changes to missionary work. There’s very little I disagree with. In particular I think making missionaries younger will almost certainly result in less effective missionaries. One thing to keep in mind is that not everyone matures at the same rate. While my mission was a fantastic experience, realistically I was very immature when I went. Even an other year of development would have made me a much better missionary.

That’s not to say that convert conversion is the only concern with missionaries. I think that realistically a big part of the Church’s view of missionary work is in terms of how it affects the missionary themselves. That is individual development seems to be quite important. Terry touches on this but I really think it should get more emphasis. 

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Why Humans Disagree on Right and Wrong

Interesting essay up at New Scientist on why humans disagree on right and wrong. As is often the case with New Scientist it’s a little overly sensationalist and speculative. The argument is that how societies get their energy incentivizes certain ethical stances. More or less it’s a variation on people’s ethics being highly biased by their economic needs. Thus societies oppose slavery when they don’t need it but manage to excuse it when it’s in society’s best interests. 

The author notes that hunter/gather societies are extremely egalitarian. Yet with the rise of agriculture about 9500 BC that expands throughout the world over the next 5000 years individuals specialize and have to be treated differently. Thus ethics comes to be viewed through a prism of different people being treated differently. Hierarchy becomes viewed as fair. What’s interesting about ethical views in such societies (according to anthropologists of modern peasant societies) is that it’s not the system that’s viewed as unethical.

What the downtrodden disagree with, ethnographers find, is not hierarchy as such, but their own place in it, or the suspicion that their so-called “betters” are not living up to their moral obligations. Resisting specific husbands, masters or lords who are abusing their authority is right and proper; resisting authority itself is not. 

With the rise of fossil fuels (coal, oil, etc.) in the 19th century we have a massive economic shift and thereby a structural change in society. Instead of ones place in hierarchy being bad it is the structures themselves seen as bad.

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