« New Pentax 50mm Lens. What? | Main | Updates »

Wednesday, 23 May 2012


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

"the overwhelming majority of scientists and engineers are religious"

Really? Definition of religious please. Why combine engineers and scientists?

Ctein and ed:
Engineers != Scientists!

Ctein, what does Brother Guy make of the Salem Hypothesis?


"the Salem Hypothesis"

Keith and Richard,
Could be a) most scientists are not religious. b) most engineers are religious. c) engineers greatly outnumber scientists. Therefore most (scientists + engineers) are religious.

--I'm-just-sayin' Mike

Glorious. Thank you.

To add to this, The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes. Great review in the New York Review of Books. A great instance of an article enriching one's understanding of a book.

" Threat is what might happen to you, risk is how likely it is to happen." Em, are you sure you got this right? From a semantic point of view, both phrases seem to involve the concept of probability.

As someone who has had some passing acquaintance with IT security, the balancing act is more crucially between the probability of an event happening, and the severity of its consequences.

Pedantic side point, but as far as threats, likelihood and risk are discussed, instead of saying the the risk is the likelihood, the three are usually represented as:

Risk = Threat (or hazard, or event) X Likelihood (or frequencly, or whatever quantifier you want to use)

Thanks Ctein for that list, I'll definitely be checking out that sci-fi novel.

Just want to add to Mike's note that it's not just Dawkins that disputes that: there are quite a few studies that suggest that the number [of non-religious scientists] is a lot higher than 80%. For example a study in Nature of National Academy of Science members that found only 7% believed in a personal God. Doesn't make the topic of Guy's book any less interesting, just perhaps less relevant overall.

Thanks as always for the thought-provoking column.

At the risk of veering dangerously off-off-topic, a quick google search for "percentage of scientists who are religious" produces a great variety of comments on work reported by a sociologist name of Elaine Howard Ecklund. She interprets the results of self-selected responses to a questionnaire. It is unclear, via google at least, what is meant by "are religious" and by "scientist". I for one would assert that a sociologist is not actually a scientist. (Just kidding, folks...)

Dear Richard,Keith and Doug,

They're combined because that's the scope of Guy's investigation.

Religious is self-defined. If you say you are, you are. If you say you ain't you ain't.

It does NOT equate to a belief in a personal God.

There have been lots of broad-based surveys of this question, over 50 years, at least. Just one of many questions that sociologists and psychologists studying techies will ask them in a personality inventory-- "Do you consider yourself religious" or some variant of that phrase. Majority answer, "Yes," consistently.

One can pick and choose some subset where it won't be true, I'm sure. That's not really important, unless you're trying to make a case for or against religious belief.

I'm not. Neither is Guy, really. He's not trying to convince you. Read the book.

My *impression* (could be wrong; I may be misremembering) is that very few techies are creationists. It wouldn't surprise me if they're concentrated among some subset of techies, but statistically they're not too important.

pax / Ctein

Dear Richard and Zach,

Yer both right-- it's a very shorthand sentence. Bruce spends a LOT more time on it than I did. But he had to fill out a whole book [smile].

Threat only involves probability to the extent it has to be nonzero. We're under threat of being hit by an extinction-event asteroid; we're not under threat of the sun going nova.

Risk of that asteroid hit is very small each year; risk of sun going nova is zero (unless our physics is wrong).

Mostly, it was meant to give people a reason to read the book. A distinction many people wouldn't know at all.

pax / Ctein

Okay, I bought two of them, the Threat one and the SF novel, and if the SF novel turns out to be some sort of hippie marijuana-enhanced feel-gooder drivel, I'll be mightily pissed. I want rockets.

I can't for the life of me think why anybody would spend a lot of time and energy thinking about gender/sex or God. One is sort of boring to talk about, and gets so tangled up in psychological singularities that any conclusion is impossible; and the other one is trivial.

The Fortunate Fall is one of my favorite novels. If folks want some more background on it, Jo Walton has a great post at Tor.com:


The Fortunate Fall, by Raphael Carter, "readily available used from Amazon"

Please refer to the previous post "Buying on the "Bay" :) It better be better than "the book is that good" for $999 + $3.99 shipping. The various used sellers must have seen an advance of Ctein's column, and knowing the habits of TOP readers ... I do wonder how an ?obscure? sci fi book generates those type of prices, or has it become a worldwide classic and I've been asleep.

Dear JC,

Heh heh, I can't promise that you won't find it drivel, but it's certainly not a feel-good book. I don't believe marijuana plays a part, that would be sooo twentieth century… but I could be forgetting (uhhh, what was the question again?)

I'd be terribly surprised if anyone here wanted to read all five of the books I recommended. They cover such a wide range of topics. I was really trying to have a little something for everybody in there. It would be nice if everybody wanted to read at least one, but that's about it.

I may have given a misimpression of Brother Guy's book. It's more a book of amateur sociology than professional theology. Guy is obviously intensely religious, but he's even more of a geek and a techie. In his own head, the two reconcile quite nicely. But being a geeky techie, he couldn't help but wonder, “Gee, there are millions of other techies out there who are involved with religion in one way or another; I wonder how it works for THEM?” And what is the techie answer to that? Research!That was the main impetus for the book, that center section of field interviews. The first and third sections are really framing information so that there is a meaningful context for the interviews and to allow him to shorthand a bunch of stuff that otherwise he'd have to explain at length.

Unsurprisingly, it turns out that there's a remarkable variety of different ways techies think about and engage with religion. Some of them make a lot of sense to me, some I had even more trouble wrapping my head around than Roman Catholicism. Some of it is counter-intuitive; some techies engage in religion who are most definitely not religious (and would not describe themselves as such).

That's the parts of the book I like the best, not the parts that tell me about people who think like I do, but the parts that let me get inside the heads of people who don't.

And for those who do like political argument, Guy's analyses and collected information offer great ammunition against both strict fundamentalists and adamant atheists.

As for sex, I agree. Talking about it is much more boring than doing it. Assuming you're doing it right.

pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com 
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com 

Dear folks,

Okay, really sorry for that business with "The Fortunate Fall." Honestly, I keep forgetting the TOP audience will pretty much instantly snap up anything that is in limited supply. I just looked online before writing, saw lots (for some inappropriately small value of "lots") and wrote my recommendation.

My bad.

Only suggestion I have is to write Tor and tell them you'd like to see the book reissued or at least posted online for free for a limited time. You can tell Patrick I sent you; he needs the amusement [g,d,&r].

pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com 
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com 

This discussion come just after having watched a video of Niel DeGrasse Tyson speak about science and intelligent design. How fitting.


There are 40 copies available on www.alibris.com. For the piracy minded, I think I remember seeing this title on either alt.binaries.e-book.flood or alt.binaries.e-book last year.

Since you didn't plug it, Bruce Schneier has a blog:


One of very few I make a point to read at least weekly.

I highly recommend Bruce Schneier’s Crypto-Gram newsletter. I always find something interesting.


Not to put too fine a point on it, not having to think much about gender / sex is what we call "privilege" (or what Scalzi recently called "playing on the easy setting"); it is much more available to the cis-gendered heterosexual males in this society than to others.

Oh my, on the exact day I order my very first Kindle (Mike, did ordering it through your amazon.com links work ok?), Ctein posts my holiday reading list. Perfect!

Personal taste is interesting. Whilst I flatter myself that I have very broad literary tastes (in terms of genre) not one of these books interests me very much at all: in a couple of cases the appeal is incomprehensible to me.

I'm not generally very interested in "historical novels" either, particularly those dealing with the iniquities of the uniformly foul British monarchies, however let me recommend both of Hilary Mantel's most recent examples of the genre (if this isn't an insult) "Wolf Hall" and "Bring up the bodies". Magnificent.

OT = Old Testament; five books that will make you think.
I can agree with that...

was philosophy major but ... just listen last few days to those philosophy in 90 minutes audio by Paul Strather and so far interesting. not surprise for wittengstein but even for Kant that is a big surprise! highly recommended.

You know ctein, that MacSpeech sure is taking a LOT of training... :)

It was a strange coincidence, but I was looking for a new book. #3 seemed the most unlikely of books I would have picked up for myself - so I ordered it. Thanks.

Lower priced used copies of Fortunate Fall are available from Alibris.


I'm very curious about the #2. I wonder how the author is warping things to make them fit his own point of view. It should be entertaining although I don't believe one minute that science and religion can be reconciled, especially not the kind of religion based on books, prophets and priests.

Dear Roy,

Yeah, for sure! That whole "no accounting for taste" thing. If someone ever figs out how to account for taste, they're gonna end up owning the whole effin' planet.

You may have noticed that I didn't even suggest that people would like these books, or that they were "must reads" or that they would change their lives in any way. I kept my bar low (grin).


Dear Emmanuel,

Feel free to email me after you've read it, with your reactions. I'll be interested (Comments will be closed by then.)

I don't think Guy has warped anything, but I'm not an expert on religion, so maybe so. But it sounds clean and intellectually honest to me (there are lots of books that make you think because they're so damn stupid.... But that's not an endorsement I'd be making).

pax / Ctein

Gender is not sex and sex is not gender.

One is interesting to think about and one, I'm told, is interesting to do.

Great list, I'm gonna touch 'em all, Kirby!

The comments to this entry are closed.