That Innovation Is Negatively Correlated With Religion Study

No jokes about the "Con" part of the picture, please.
No jokes about the “Con” part of the picture, please.

Quick Quiz O’ The Day: What do you get when you marry an abysmal knowledge of history, a sublime narcissism, an ignorance of the nature of evidence, a perverse hatred of religion and a mania for scientism proselytization?

Answer: Chris Mooney (Richard Dawkins would also have been accepted).

Mooney is a far-left numerologist who is ever highlighting occult patterns in numbers (which only “researchers” can see) which “prove” that those to the right of Mooney are blighted, benighted, and bamboozled. It’s a sad show, but sadder is that he finds a steady audience—mainly those raised to have high self-esteem.

His latest effort to show his self worth is in Mother Jones, in an article entitled “Study: Science and Religion Really Are Enemies After All.

Hey, Mooney! Where would science be without Christianity?

Oh, never mind. There’s no use asking a man impervious to evidence. Indeed, what follows below nearly useless; nevertheless, I provide it as a public service to the few curious left in our culture.

Mooney, relying on peer-reviewed research, claims, “higher levels of religiosity are related to lower levels of scientific innovation” but only “when controlling for differences in income per capita, population, and rates of higher education.”

Uh oh. “Controlling for” is tell-tale that statistics are happening, that data has been massaged, perhaps even tortured.

First, the researchers looked at the raw data on patents per capita (taken from the World Intellectual Property Organization’s data) and religiosity (based on the following question from the World Values Survey: “Independently of whether you go to church or not, would you say you are: a religious person, not a religious person, a convinced atheist, don’t know”). And they found a “strong negative relationship” between the two. In other words, for countries around the world, more religion was tied to fewer patents per individual residing in the country.

Hey, Mooney! Are the number of patents per capita a measure of innovation or legal strangulation? After all, in these once United States we now allow patents on software—software! And how many companies exist just to buy patents in order to sue “infringers”? And aren’t the number of patents more a function of the corporate-bureaucrat arms race than the religious beliefs of their filers? And thus the “strong negative relationship” can just as easily be stated: As Religion Decreases, Legalism Increases?

Ah, skip it. Facts like this are like BBs on a rhino’s hide. Anyway, the “researchers” knew their data in raw form would never fly, so they started controlling “for no less than five other standard variables related to innovation”. They then took the residuals—the residuals!—from this regression and made this plot (taken from Mooney’s piece):


Everything about this plot depresses me. First, it is built on the leavings of a highly questionable statistical model (applied by reflex). Second, these wee dots give the appearance of precision which does not exist. The “religiosity” for an entire country, garnered by small samples, is really representative of the entire population?

Hey, Mooney! Are all religions equivalent?

Hmm, well we know how he’d answer that. So back to the dots, which again are partly “residuals” from an ill-conceived model, partly “religiosity”. The things “controlled” for—“population, levels of economic development, levels of foreign investment, educational levels, and intellectual property protections”—are scarcely identical in each country, and neither can they be measured to equal precision. Yet the plot pretends they are.

Ideally, the plot should never be made, for it is a farce. But if one were in a situation where the criticisms above held (for real, actually quantifiable variables) then the thing to do is to size the dots to indicate uncertainty. Since these are part-residuals, part-survey, the dots would be quite sizable, maybe something like this:

The blob.
The blob.

Pretty hard to posture and pontificate over a plot like this. But Mooney (and the researchers) conclude, “Religiosity stifles innovation, but at the same time, innovation and science weaken religiosity.”

Rot. The plot equally “proves” that lack of religion emboldens lawyers, or increasing government encourages legalism. That the authors never see this is also proof of their anti-religion bias.


Thanks to the reader whose name I lost for sending this in.


  1. Sheri

    I was surprised to see Denmark was so religious. Oprah went there and the Danish told her they were not very religious. Who am I supposed to believe??? 🙁

    I guess just asking innovative people if they were religious or not would be much harder to massage than the method presented here. It would have been so much easier if this kind of “science” had existed when I was in college. No long hours setting up experiments, no recruiting volunteers, and I could have gotten any answer I wanted. Not real science, but it’s perfect for the lazy who don’t really care about science, just about fame. (Oh, wait, I don’t want fame… bad. I’ll stick to the real science.)

  2. Ken

    Question: Where would science be without Christianity?

    Answer: In the USA, much of the textbooks & elementary & high school curricula would not have been teaching “Creation Science” of a 6000 (or 10,000) year old Earth & more. An unfounded belief system force-fitting objective facts to comport with a particular set of interpretations of Biblical allegory. The long-term impact has profound implications for future biologists, medical researchers, geologists, etc. who fall for this codswallop and as a result fail to innovate, invent, discover, etc. when such progress would require a “belief” system contrary to the religiously-based belief system. Fortunately much of that has been made illegal, though the religiously-based “science” still finds its way into many classrooms.

    Of course, it’s impossible to know or estimate, much less quantify, what won’t happen, what won’t be invented, what won’t be discovered, etc. because of belief system that gets in the way. But we do know that that research that isn’t undertaken won’t generate results.

    Fortunately, for Briggs, his particular flavor of Christianity, Roman Catholicism, doesn’t subscribe to the 6K/10K yr old Earth, anti-evolution mindset so endemic in so much of US society and intrusive on so much of the educational process.

    Which just illustrates, when one says something like, ‘where would we be without Christianity?’ one needs to explain just which “Christianity” one means…because there are so many mutually incompatible “Christian” doctrines out there.

  3. Rich

    “That Innovation Is Negatively Correlated With Religion Study” – vile phrase. How about, “That Innovation Is Negatively Correlated With Religion: Study”?

  4. This is a perfect opportunity to ask Dr. Briggs (yet again) a question. Suppose, for the sake of argument, that I am just a very curious person, of course with some bias (being human and all) but nevertheless not completely rigid in the face of evidence (full disclosure, I’m Christian both by upbringing and by faith but not Catholic).

    The question occurs to me: “Gosh, I wonder what effect, if any, the depth and prevalence of religious belief and practice in a Country has on the tendency toward innovation by the inhabitants of that Country. Of course, I suspect that many factors affect that tendency. Such things as ability to enforce contracts, availability of natural resources, depth of governmental corruption at all levels, educational system, ad infinitum will influence innovation. But I’ll get to those later, it’s religion I’m curious about at the moment. Since I have plenty of money but hardly any spare time and no deep knowledge of how to figure this out, what, if anything, can I do to satisfy my curiosity on this question? I know, I’ll commission Dr. William Briggs, a man with the deep knowledge I lack and a clear ability to disregard b.s. in statistical machinations, to attempt to reduce my uncertainty about this question.”

    “Dr. Briggs has gone a long way already in convincing me of the uselessness of statistical thinking in answering questions outside of the ‘is the production process in my widget factory reliably producing widgets with an acceptably low reject rate? genre’ but perhaps I’m missing something. I’ll give it a shot. I wonder if Dr. Briggs will accept that commission and, if so, how he would propose to reduce my uncertainty I know that he’d never take my money under false pretenses, so if he accepts the commission, I’m sure he’s confident that he can reduce my uncertainty on the question.”

    Disclaimer: I’m NOT offering such a commission and I don’t have plenty of money, so the question is really “can uncertainty on such a question be reduced and, if so, how?” It seems like it’s easy for you to show that others failed to answer the question they’ve claimed to answer, but can the question be answered (in the sense of reducing uncertainty as you so often make clear)?

  5. empiresentry

    Guess it would have been defeating to his hypothesis to actually survey the persons who create and file patents…otherwise, he pretends to have a specific conclusion while using generalities like and entire nation.
    My spouse is a VERY devote religious person…a world recognized expert and scientist with 12 patents, 6 pending and 21 more on the drawing board.
    Would Mooney interview and count the atheist ex-boss who is a patent vulture, knows nothing of science, has never invented anything but files patent claims on anything that moves? This vulture has no moral compass to steal from others.
    Is Mooney able to produce scientific evidence that a religion prevented a person from creating? His fallacy is a prejudice.

  6. APL

    Just looking at the “outliers” (shades of Malcolm Gladwell) is Chris Mooney actually suggesting that the “innovation residual” is higher in Pakistan than in Switzerland ? or higher in Vietnam than in either Sweden, Great Britain, Australia, or France ? And in a similar vein that “religiosity residual” is higher in the United States, Denmark, and Slovakia than in Saudi Arabia ? If this theory (and theories in general) is to have any sort of predictive power, wouldn’t you have to come up with some sort of explanation for these values ?

  7. Tom Scharf

    Pakistan is more innovative than the USA. I guess that is all I need to know about this particular study.

    On the other hand, I have often wondered how long it would take a country like Saudi Arabia to go to the moon. another 200 years, another 1000? The point that overtly religious countries (particularly where Islam is central to governance) tend to undervalue science is true on its face. This was not always the case over history.

    The agenda of this study is also obvious. The real correlation is wealth vs. innovation, and here you have cause and effect to sort out.

  8. Ken

    RE: “Science was born of Christianity–the teachings of Fr. Stanley Jaki”

    Interesting review about that book, here:

    Consider this quote from that review:

    “Why does this matter? It matters because science today is returning to the pantheistic, pagan, or atheistic thought of ancient times–times when science did not thrive as a self-sustaining enterprise that discovered physical laws and systems of laws, but instead viewed the world as unpredictable, unknowable, and magical. This will be explained as it is the essence of the argument. To understand this claim is to understand why THE CATHOLIC CHURCH HAS A LEGITIMATE RIGHT AND AUTHORITY TO VETO SCIENTIFIC CONCLUSIONS WHICH DIRECTLY CONTRADICT DIVINELY REVEALED DOGMA.” [EMPHASIS added]

    The book is presented as an apologetic screed with an ulterior motive–to force scientific findings to conform to religious dogma. And that reviewer presented some farcical notions–asserting science is degrading to the unpredictable & magical when exactly the opposite is the case. That reviewer’s peculiar observations aside, the premise asserted in the title & made in the dust jacket is grossly at odds with any review of the historical record.

    “Arabic Numbers.”

    They’re called that because Islam, to about 1100-ish AD, was very innovative and the basic math, and nomenclature, we still use was invented by them. Islam, arguably, inspired the “scientific method” still in use today, which was for hundreds of years applied to research in a wide variety of disciplines by Islam-inspired researchers. It all came to a rather abrupt halt when religious fundamentalism per a charismatic Islamic religious leader determined science was bad.

    Eratosthenes calculated the circumference of the Earth in roughly 200 BC.

    The assertion in the book (per its dust jacket) that science was stillborn due to the belief in a cycling universe — until Christianity came along — is wrong.

    Skip the revisionist re-definition of the Inquisition’s record regarding Galileo, consider Charles Darwin — he withheld publication of his most famous work for a decade in recognition of the religious opposition that would–and did–provoke. In that regard he followed the playbook of Copernicus who likewise withheld publication of much of his theory & work on the orbits of planets (though Darwin didn’t wait to die before publishing).

    Those are just some famous examples.

    If Christianity was the enabler of science, why did so many scientists withhold & abbreviate so much scientific work in response to Christianity?

    Because Christianity actively responded to suppress findings that conflicted with the then-dogma. That’s EXACTLY what the above quoted reviewer asserts is one desired objective of the 21st century Catholic Church!

    That’s consistency…

    History shows that following Al-Ghazali’s squelching, under the name of Islam, scientific & medical research, things pretty much rested where they were for hundreds of years, until the Renaissance (1300s). The reasons for that explosion of development are debatable, the historical record documents a centuries-long lull where Christianity had the opportunity thru Europe to be scientifically innovative & creative…but nothing changed, stagnation prevailed, with consistency over generations. And where the Renaissance took off with vigor were the places where the Church and/or oppressive monarchs were least influential–in places where systems comparable to capitalism were strongest.

    That’s quite a historical record documenting Christian non-influence in the scientific vacuum left by Islam.

    The historical record also shows what Christians WERE doing with alarming efficiency: Killing Each Other. In the name of the Prince of Peace.

    Christian-on-Christian bloodshed threads thru its history to most of our lifetimes (recall the Protestant vs. Catholic violence in Ireland, only recently stopped). Such religious strife (Christian-on-Christian) was a very dominant consideration of the USA’s “Founding Fathers” on why they invoked the ‘separation of church & state.’ There’s so much documented history on this (e.g. one ought not be alarmed by the recent violence associated with “fanatical Islam” — which has a long way to go to compare with the mayhem of history’s Christians.

  9. Sander van der Wal

    There is one problem here not yet mentioned, countries that do a lot of scientific research but not a lot of product development will show badly in this statistic. And the science has to be of the kind that you can use to create patentable stuff.

    The number of patent applications is therefore a bad indicator for the scientific mindview of a country. How about looking at things more closely related to doing science?

  10. Ken

    Interesting book: “The Knife Man: Blood, Body Snatching, and the Birth of Modern Surgery” (Blood, Body Snatching, and the Birth of Modern Surgery). ; note the portrait on the cover of this book at this link!!!

    It’s centered on medical researcher Dr. Jack Hunter (1728-1793), noteworthy for sometimes stealing bodies and doing dissections to greatly further medical science (back then it was illegal to rob graves of valuables, but not the bodies…and violated graves were often found with the valuable jewelry left behind). It’s interesting as it describes an era & its then-social values few of us appreciate (rarely, a condemned criminal, body retrieved from the scaffold [what could be a vicious competitive battle between thugs working for competing researchers], would recover on the dissection table–and they thought nothing of finishing the death sentence). Also, how dedicated & sneaky some had to be to further science. Not to mention that Dr. Hunter, and/or his home & laboratory, was/were undoubtedly an strong influences [if not inspiration] on Robert Louis Stevenson for his famous story, “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.” Anyone with even a smidgeon of interest in such will find this book an entertaining & informative easy read about a facet of the history of medical research & development few of us can otherwise appreciate.

    But I digress, the reason for mentioning it is the book cover–which is dominated by a copy of an actual portrait of Dr. Jack Hunter, where he willfully included in the background a copy of an open notebook were three hands (ape to human) & a number of skulls (ape to human) were portrayed. That’s expressly conveying the same thing as this modern equivalent:

    Back then — some quarter century before Charles Darwin was born — Dr. Jack Hunter, like many other educated in the medical & scientific community, were convinced that humans & apes evolved from a common ancestor (and by his time this wasn’t his original idea either). He expressly included that notebook in his personal portrait to indicate this personal view and convey it to like-minded people that would recognize that portrait feature for the then-coded message it was.

    Which is to say, anyone who believes that Charles Darwin was the first guy to figure out evolution, or was the first to present & discuss it, are wrong. Darwin was the first to compile such formative evidence and document the state of the knowledge at the time, including some of his own original insights & speculations. By the time Darwin came around to compiling the evidence, evolution was, in medical & scientific circles, both very old news and generally accepted as fact (even though the mechanisms of how it happened were not understood).

    Which raises the question — if the Church was oh-so-accommodating to furthering & enabling science & the scientific method, why did those actively engaged in cutting edge (pun intended) science resort to such cryptograms to identify themselves to each other (such as Dr. Hunter’s portrait) as opposed to just openly discussing & publishing such info?

    Rhetorical question.

    The Church was actively opposed to anything that contradicted its dogma and actively attacked those with the temerity to do so. In response, much scientific/medical research was conducted in secret & shared via surreptitious collaborations. The historical record is chock-full of such examples.

  11. JohnK

    Love the second graph with the blobs. Definitely think you should incorporate something similar into your standard pitch on regression. One suggested improvement: fading out the color from darker at the calculated mean, out to lighter at the fringes of each blob, better suggesting a non-uniform probability distribution. I know: on the Internet, no one can tell you can’t draw.

    Pakistan more innovative than the USA. I never knew that until today. Gee, thanks, Mr. Mooney!

    Maybe Ken did know that already; but then, Ken owes more to 17-19th century British propagandists than even he might realize. Shh — don’t tell him that ‘Galileo, the Inquisition, and the Crusades’ (oh, and ‘war’) is not quite the incantation that it used to be.

    As the saying goes: Whig history theoretically MIGHT exist; but Obi-Wan was right: these aren’t the Whigs you’re looking for.

  12. Ken, I’ll quote from another review on the link you gave:
    “Have you read the book? If not you find yourself in the camp of ‘seldom informed but never in doubt’ Many cultures had discoveries but failed to press on because their view of the cosmos and creation clearly got in the way. When you are able to come back with reasoned refutation of Fr. Jaki’s thesis and Ms. Transancos’ analysis then let’s talk.”
    I don’t think you’ve read the book; you seem to have a strong bias/prejudice against the Catholic Church, which will not be abated by rational discussion. I’ve learned, “It doesn’t pay to argue on the internet”.
    So, if you can answer the following question (in a rational, objective way), I’ll consider further discussion–otherwise…to no good use for either you or me.
    If Christianity and the consequent view of a Divinely ordered world, with God the Creator, was not the important factor in the development of science, why then did not China, Greece, Egypt, Babylonia, Arabia, India develop science (if you wish, you can see Dr. Trasanco’s articles on this). To sum up, when science developed, the great minds who brought it forth–Albertus Magnus, Roger Bacon, Newton, Galileo–did believe in this Divine order. As Galileo wrote, “The laws of nature are written by the hand of God in the language of mathematics.”

  13. Ken, and as far as your comment on Dr. Jack Hunter–irrelevant.

  14. While I’m sure that the criticism of Mooney’s efforts is quite legitimate, the discussion in the most recent comments has argued (in the positive sense of “argue”) around whether religiosity negatively or positively impacts science. The claim by Mooney evaluated by Dr. Briggs is not about science, it’s about innovation (or so I understand from the post itself). Though there may be a relation between them, these are not the same thing at all.

  15. Mike

    Historically, the Church has often been a patron of sciences. It has been prolific in the foundation of schools, universities and hospitals, and many clergy have been active in the sciences. Historians of science such as Pierre Duhem credit medieval Catholic mathematicians and philosophers such as John Buridan, Nicole Oresme and Roger Bacon as the founders of modern science.[1] Duhem concluded that “the mechanics and physics of which modern times are justifiably proud to proceed, by an uninterrupted series of scarcely perceptible improvements, from doctrines professed in the heart of the medieval schools.”

  16. jay

    seems like it could be particularly important to control for the expected value of bothering to get a patent in each country. when the tax burden is enormous, or the rule of law is weak, what’s the point in filing some paperwork?

    also, you drop the 9 outlier countries and it just becomes a roundish looking blob.

  17. Suppose probabilistic/Fisherian statistics with all the “controlling-fors” could conceivably be a trustworthy methodology in this case. (I know what you think of that, but bear with me a moment.) It looks to me like China, Japan, and Portugal are probably multivariate outliers of the sort that I was told to remove or adjust so as not to let it overly influence the regression. Possibly Iceland is, too.

    As you know, it’s an absolutely unbendable rule that we adjust or remove outliers when they reach a critical Mahalanobis distance, defined as, “what works best to produce our desired result.” But on an eyeball examination, it looks to me like it would be pretty hard to justify keeping (at least) China and Portugal where they are in the analysis. And then where would our p-values fly off to?

    What I’m saying is that it appears to me that even apart from ecological fallacies, the heavy proliferation of error-inducing assumptions, and all the rest, that regression line looks purely bogus. I’d be hesitant to draw the conclusion of significance if it were weights and heights measured to the tenth decimal on each axis. The outliers are too obviously weighted in the analysis.

  18. Ye Olde Statisician

    when one says something like, ‘where would we be without Christianity?’ one needs to explain just which “Christianity” one means

    Easily said: about two-thirds of all Christians world-wide are members of the Catholic church or the Orthodox church. The Anglican communion and the Lutheran confession add a bit more. You have to go way down the list before you hit Bill and Ted’s Excellent Bible-thumping Shack. So one is best served by referencing the vast majority. When you include previous history, the imbalance becomes greater.

    Hope this helps.

  19. From the Benabou study Mooney drew his material from (

    “In 1632, Galilei published the Dialogue on the Two Chief World Systems, which immediately caught the attention of the Church. The book, ìmade the clearest, fullest and most persuasive yet of arguments in favor of Copernicanism and against traditional Aristotelian- Ptolemaic astronomy and natural philosophy,î(McClellan III and Dorn (2006), p. 230). As a result, on April 12, 1633, Galileo was forced to stand trial before the Holy Inquisition in Rome, which found him guilty of “vehemently suspected heresy,” forced him to “abjure, curse and detest” his opinions and placed all his works, past and future, in the Index of Prohibited Books. The trials of Galileo and other “heretical” scientists like the mathematician and astronomer Giordano Bruno, burnt at the stake in 1600, had wide-ranging consequences.”

    Absolutely wrong on Bruno. Mostly misleading on Galileo, and (elsewhere in the paper) medieval religion and science in general. Wrong on a lot more besides, but I think I’ll save the fun for a blog post of my own.

  20. Brandon Gates


    There’s much to not like about Mooney’s article, starting with the headline, “Study: Science and Religion Really Are Enemies After All”. The article itself contains more nuance and is less polemic than the title might suggest. The referenced paper by Roland Bénabou contains more meat and less editorializing — as would be expected since academics tend to be dryer in tone and longer on substance than journalists.

    In the end, it’s the substance I care about, so I read the paper itself. Briggs doesn’t do it justice. Right off the bat, this is not a paper which sets out to show that the religious are “blighted, benighted, and bamboozled” as he put it. Mentioned in Mooney’s article, but glossed over by Briggs:

    The three kinds of regimes that [Bénabou and his colleagues] identify: a secular, European-style regime in which religion has very little policy influence and science garners great support; a repressive, theocratic regime in which the state and religion merge to suppress science; and a more intermediate, American-style regime in which religion and science both thrive, with the state supporting science and religions (mostly) trying to accommodate themselves to its findings.

    Not that religion and science don’t mix, not that religious people are stupid and make poor scientists. From pg. 4 of the study, some historical background on science and Islam during the “Muslim expansion in the Middle East, North Africa and Southern Europe [between] 632-732 C.E.”:

    Scientific progress flourished in this environment of religious and intellectual pluralism and confrontation, with major developments in algebra, trigonometry, the introduction of Indian numerals and the essentials of decimal reckoning. Progress also occurred in chemistry and in medicine, and the use of the experimental method became widespread. Technological innovations of the Muslim civilization include the double-acting suction pump, navigational instruments (astrolabes, quadrants, globes and the magnetic compass) and important progress in the development of the clock.

    And further down, Protestant Christians get some love, from pg. 9:

    In 1727, following a state funeral, Newton was buried at Westminster Abbey among great statesmen and poets, with the endorsement of the Church. Newton’s work was also very well received in most areas of Europe outside the reach of the Inquisition … There are two complementary explanations why the new scientific ideas encountered much less opposition in England than in countries such as Italy and Spain. First, England already experienced significant economic growth during the 16th century, due to the expansion of trade and industry, while these other countries stagnated under the Inquisition. Second, as argued by Merton (1938), Protestant values encouraged scientific inquiry by allowing scientists to identify and celebrate the influence of God on the world. Through its technological applications, the new science developed by Isaac Newton was a precursor to the Industrial Revolution. The use of scientific principles and laws of mechanics in craftwork industries, which until then had relied on rule-of-thumb formulas and trial-and-error methods, allowed England to become the world’s first industrialized nation.

    Again, not religion is bad, science is good … but that good things happen when religion and science can coexist in open societies bereft of oppressive totalitarianism with an aim toward controlling ideas. IOW, dogmatic theocratic regimes are Not Good because they tend to quell intellectual freedom, open exchange of ideas, heterodoxy, skepticism — of which science is a part, and which tends to reduce technological innovation as a result. (Yes science and innovation are different, but the link between should be obvious and noncontroversial.)

    Catholicism does not come off well in the historical anecdotes cited in the paper. Whether that’s bias on the part of the authors or simply the expedient of contrasting Catholic vs. Protestant policy during the Industrial Revolution isn’t clear to me. It’s clearly evident that the Church has not consistently stifled scientific progress its entire history, the Jesuit contributions to astronomy being a ready example … perhaps most famously, Georges Lemaitre and the Big Bang. And echoing Briggs, where would genetics be without the work of Gregor Mendel? Jean-Baptiste Lamarck was ultimately shown to be wrong about the mechanism of evolution, but deserves points for gathering the evidence and laying the groundwork for later naturalists.

    These are all anecdotes of course, which are only really useful for proposing hypotheses of causality. Speaking of causation, yet another thing which has been plowed under in the cited paper, pg. 16:

    Naturally, neither the cross-country nor the cross-state regressions allow definite causal inferences to be drawn. The controls used eliminate some first-order sources of potential misspecification, but only instrumental variables or natural experiments would allow for proper identification.

    Something else missed by both Briggs and Mooney: on pg. 12 are scatter plots of patents per capita against the religiosity index and belief in God. Raw data. No control variables. No regression against residuals of a regression.

    I’ll end on your question to Briggs from way above:

    It seems like it’s easy for you to show that others failed to answer the question they’ve claimed to answer, but can the question be answered (in the sense of reducing uncertainty as you so often make clear)?

    For comparison to today’s article, have a look this earlier one:

  21. JD

    What I find a little curious is that views such as scientism, new atheism, evolutionary-theory-explains-everything, and the like, are often damned because they are (it is said), “more like religions” – like it’s an insult. But these accusations are often made by religious believers themselves. It reminds me of the Woody Allen line “I would never want to join any club that would have someone like me for a member”. But I suppose the beef is that the proponents of those views refuse to acknowledge the faith element, and insist instead that they are “The Truth”.

  22. JD

    I stand corrected. Thanks, Bob!

  23. JH

    Where would science be without Christianity?

    I love this kind of question that nobody really knows the answer because it can stimulate people’s imagination!

    Let’s turn on the time machine and re-create history to find out the answer. What point in time should we travel back to ensure there would not be Christianity? Back to the time when Muslim scholars translated great Greek books of philosophy and natural philosophy?

    Uh oh. “Controlling for” is tell-tale that statistics are happening, that data has been massaged, perhaps even tortured.

    In statistics, “controlling for” means “adjusting for” or “accounting for.” You know this, Mr. Briggs!

    For example, in the well-known Berkeley gender bias example of Simpson’s paradox (a fun easy read), one may say that after controlling/adjusting for the effect of “department”, it appeared that there is no significant biased against women.

  24. Ye Olde Statisician

    Back to the time when Muslim scholars translated great Greek books of philosophy and natural philosophy?

    Oddly enough, this was done not by muslim scholars, but by Nestorian Christians, who had earlier overset the books into Syriac and who organized the House of Wisdom in Baghdad to set them into Arabic.

  25. JH

    YOS, might I suggest that you do a search in Google Scholar?

  26. Ye Olde Statisician

    Hunayn ibn Ishaq and his nephews were not Syrians?

  27. JH


    Don’t you know the answer to your own question?

    Do you mean there wouldn’t be any Muslim scholars (the smart, teachable ones) who had translated the works of the Greek masters for me to visit so I could give them certain advantages? How disappointing!

    I didn’t want to say this, but maybe I should just travel back to the point in time before Jesus was born. Remember, I’d be travelling back to change the history, right? Probably a more efficient way.

  28. Ye Olde Statisician

    Do you mean there wouldn’t be any Muslim scholars (the smart, teachable ones) who had translated the works of the Greek masters for me to visit so I could give them certain advantages? How disappointing!

    The muslim scholars did not translate the Greek masters; the Syriacs did. There were muslim scholars who commented on these translations, many with great insight; but they were never mainstreamed in the culture. The faylasuf were regarded with suspicion by the mutakallimun, who were in turn regarded with suspicion by the mujtahid. It was not the brilliance of al-Kindi or ibn Rushd that needed a visit from a time machine. It was the culture in which they lived that did not find a place for them.

    A useful three-way study can be found here:

  29. Andrew Brew


    “Arabic Numbers.”

    They’re called that because Islam, to about 1100-ish AD, was very innovative and the basic math, and nomenclature, we still use was invented by them.

    No. They are called that because the Latins, who are our cultural ancestors in the Anglosphere, got them (around 1100-ish) from the Arabs. The Arabs had started using them about three centuries earlier, calling them “Hindu” numbers. They, in turn, did not call them that because they had got them from the Hindus, but because that was what they were called by the Syriac Christians, who had been aware of them since at least the early seventh century. Bishop Severus Sebokht, of Kinnesrin, described them around 650, when the the armies of the Caliph were just making their presence felt in his neighbourhood of Northern Iraq, and before anyone had written a book in Arabic, let alone a treatise on mathematics.

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