Modeling and Predicting Religion and Secularism with AI

The title of this piece in The Atlantic, “Artificial Intelligence Shows Why Atheism Is Unpopular,” is misleading, if not click bait, especially because they never address the title in the article directly, but suffice it to say that I was curious, then a little shocked or scared of the implications.

the Modeling Religion Project … An international team of computer scientists, philosophers, religion scholars, and others are collaborating to build computer models that they populate with thousands of virtual people, or “agents.” As the agents interact with each other and with shifting conditions in their artificial environment, their attributes and beliefs—levels of economic security, of education, of religiosity, and so on—can change.

The not so surprising implications are that “the goal of the project is to give politicians an empirical tool that will help them assess competing policy options so they can choose the most effective one.”

It’s not as if we don’t already use our own best judgements on policy, or steer toward the goals we want, or the goals a politician wants, it’s when a policy does something we don’t want and we have to suffer the consequences of decisions from a master sovereign or the masses that problems arise, or an outcome is a problem in itself. Anyway,

The MODRN (Modeling Religion in Norway) model gives you a recipe for accelerating secularization—and it gives you a recipe for blocking it. You can use it to make everything revert to supernaturalism by messing with some of those key conditions—say, by triggering some ecological disaster. Then everything goes plunging back into pre-secularism.

We don’t “need” religion, or it becomes irrelevant because humans, not gods, are what make “modern” society function well, irrespective of a few shitty policies, politicians, and the group-think of the voting public:

Using a separate model, Future of Religion and Secular Transitions (FOREST), the team found that people tend to secularize when four factors are present: existential security (you have enough money and food), personal freedom (you’re free to choose whether to believe or not), pluralism (you have a welcoming attitude to diversity), and education (you’ve got some training in the sciences and humanities). If even one of these factors is absent, the whole secularization process slows down. This, they believe, is why the U.S. is secularizing at a slower rate than Western and Northern Europe.

“The U.S. has found ways to limit the effects of education by keeping it local, and in private schools, anything can happen,” said Shults’s collaborator, Wesley Wildman, a professor of philosophy and ethics at Boston University. “Lately, there’s been encouragement from the highest levels of government to take a less than welcoming cultural attitude to pluralism. These are forms of resistance to secularization.”

Resistance or not, as humans start to realize that Metaphysical Naturalism or atheism makes the most sense, along with questioning the very notion of giving up liberty to policy makers or voters, it is not likely they could be hoodwinked into bowing to a master sovereign or slights of hand for some power grab or social experiment and control, including religiosity. Secularism doesn’t guarantee a better world, it could certainly breed a dystopia, but the probability may be lower if people know “heaven” is made in this life, and those that make it a hell should go there now so we can make a better world. A world with no gods and no masters. I’m not going to qualify what I mean by “better” other than “liberty, and justice, for all,” which arises when a Black Panther slogan is realized: “all power to all people,” or there are no master sovereigns or vanguards, including AI. It’s not that AI and algorithms should not be used to make decisions, but AI or not, trying to manufacture consent is not OK.

Neil Johnson is quoted in the Atlantic piece cautioning that “we should be skeptical about the word prediction in relation to this type of model. Opinion might be better.” I’ll reiterate that one thing may be true, or predictable, or perhaps it is my own prejudice,

people tend to secularize when four factors are present: existential security (you have enough money and food), personal freedom (you’re free to choose whether to believe or not), pluralism (you have a welcoming attitude to diversity), and education (you’ve got some training in the sciences and humanities).

So in a less secular society those four factors are not as present?  Or those factors lead to secularism? Regardless, it is safe to say that religion comes from ignorance, and maybe insecurity, and fear, i.e. religion is dumb or can create or result from a dumb conflict ridden world, or hell. Perhaps “Atheism Is Unpopular,” because the world generally sucks thanks to conflicts created by a few masters or the desire to be a master, some consent manufacturing, market manipulation, and capitalism. Bring on the sciences and humanities, or humanity, preferably humanism, or revolutionary humanism. All power to all people, or no power to no people, it’s the same thing. Bring on and world of (self) education, and atheism, or an world with educated people with no gods and no masters (AI or other for that matter). That said, where does AI fit into humanism? Transhumanism perhaps.

Thankfully, in spite of these “models,” it turns out that “younger people are less religious than older ones in many countries, especially in the U.S. and Europe…in 46 countries around the world, adults under age 40 are less likely to say religion is “very important” in their lives than are older adults.” Thank god things are starting to look up.



  1. Zenobia van Dongen

    Members of the project believe this “is why the U.S. is secularizing at a slower rate than Western and Northern Europe”.
    They seem worried by the slow secularization of the US.
    But they don’t seem the least bit worried about why Muslims are DEsecularizing in Europe.
    One example, which is repeated elsewhere, is reported from Denmark, where the Jyllands-Posten reported on 10 October 2015 that Muslims in Denmark place more emphasis on their religion and religious practices than beforem according to a poll among Danish Muslims made by Wilke for Jyllands Posten, when compared to a similar poll taken almost 10 years before in 2006. At that time 37 per cent prayed five times or more daily. Now it’s exactly half, 50 per cent. Similarly, a greater share — 77 per cent. – believe that the Quran’s instructions should be fully followed compared to 62 per cent in 2006.
    Nonetheless the model explains Muslim DEsecularization: Item 3 — pluralism (you HAVE A WELCOMING ATTITUDE to diversity [unlike most Muslims].
    So the article propagates disinformation. It claims that “Europe” is secularizing, but it’s just Christian Europe that is secularizing, not Muslim Europe, which is steadily becoming more extreme.

    • Maybe, but I’m not sure how strong polls or testimonials are as “evidence”. At any rate, secularization is happening, thank dog. Time, technology, science, and stable economic and social conditions will do wonders towards riding the world of religion, or fundamentalism at any rate. At some point they become unnecessary or irrelevant. Of course for some religious people successful secular institutions and economies (if not humanism) is exactly what some religious people hate (sometimes because they feel obsolete?).

      Quite often extremism or fundamentalism is a push back and/or blow-back for the ills the west has put on them: our wars, proxy wars, deliberate bombing of infrastructure, theft of oil and natural resources, and the resulting famine, are to blame for the drive towards extremism. Wars make going to school or education difficult. A healthy working brain and the ability/luxury of time to decompress and ask hard questions and see weakness in human thinking will go much farther and faster in riding this planet of religious thinking, not to mention standing armies, statism/nationalism, speciesism, and military industrial capitalism that feeds off of the destabilization of creating enemies to continue the cycle (and religion). Some people can’t or don’t make that leap, they get stuck in religions (and belief in the State as god), and can’t see that they are the oppressors and creators of illness to begin with. I can only hope that over time we will evolve and grow to change this. Some of us are moving ahead and some of us backwards. It depends on who you ask and how as to what kind of answer or solution you will receive.

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