Republished: Religion poll is a waste of paper

My second (and last) editorial in The Gateway while at the University of Alberta, salvaged via the Web Archive. The paper had a policy where writers were forbidden from submitting letters or opinion pieces if they were the subject of the news due to perceived conflicts of interest. I called them out at the time for the absurdity of such a policy.

Religion poll a waste of paper

Originally published in The Gateway, 9th October 2008

There’s an election going on at the moment. No—not the Obama/McCain one, and not even the Canadian one that you probably know less about, but affects you more. This one went on with almost no warning and, in the end, will have no positive effect at all.

Perhaps by now you’ve seen a certain campus group’s posters asking you to vote on whether you believe in God. By setting up a booth in CAB, and later SUB, they hope to accomplish what the SU has failed at for far too long—getting students to vote. However, one must immediately question several things regarding this concept.

Firstly, you have to ponder the purpose of performing a poll like this yourself instead of hiring a polling company. You would think that a statistically significant poll would be more valuable—but perhaps empirical evidence is a bit too foreign to some believers.

If you want a hint at their results, see if they line up with a Canada Press poll from this past year that found that 23 per cent of Canadians don’t believe in a God, and 36 per cent of Canadians under 25 were non-believers. In a university campus environment, the latter group is quite prevalent.

Next, with polls like these, one has to wonder how the terms have been defined. It’s unclear what they’re talking about when they mention “God.”

Traditionally, big-G God refers to that guy-in-the-sky that Jews, Muslims, and Christians believe in. But some people believe that there’s some universal spirit or force running through the universe, and they call that god.

Others believe in a deity that started the universe and let it go like a wind-up watch. So what definition are they going with?

Then there’s the strangeness of hinging the metaphysical existence of anything on popularity. Humans often believe pretty crazy things. For example, people have believed the earth was the back of a turtle, while others believed that the Milky Way was fluid squirted from a goddess’s breast. So to run a mock election on belief in God makes me wonder what they hope to prove.

There are a countless number of things that the majority of humanity has previously believed without any empirical evidence that later turned out to be false—the earth being flat, the earth being the centre of the universe, the sun being the centre of the universe, humans being utterly disconnected from the rest of the animal kingdom, the existence of witches, and that masturbation will cause hairy palms.

So to ask whether the majority believes in a supernatural being doesn’t lend anything to its existence—we may as well ask if people believe in the Higgs boson. Without doing actual science, we’ll never know an answer about either.

Some will claim that science can’t know everything, and that God can’t be found in a test tube. Well, he can’t be found in a student group-sponsored poll either. And rather than getting their group more believers, they may inadvertently expose how many unbelievers there are on this campus.

Alberta is often seen as the most conservative Christian province in Canada, and election day will demonstrate why. However, when the 2001 census shows that upwards of 25 per cent of Albertans claim “no religion,” second only to British Columbia, there’s clearly more going on than meets the eye.

So take charge, fellow heathens, heretics, humanists, atheists, agnostics, freethinkers, and skeptics: you are not alone.