Category Archives: religion

The Religiosity-Racism Link

Admit­ting that there are “so many, many pos­it­ive aspects and bene­fits to reli­gi­os­ity”, the authors of a meta-ana­lys­is on the sub­ject have shown a pos­it­ive cor­rel­a­tion between reli­gious affil­i­ation and racism.

Organ­ized reli­gion […], by its very nature, encour­ages people to accept one fun­da­ment­al belief sys­tem as super­i­or to all oth­ers. The required value judg­ment cre­ates a kind of us-versus-them con­flict, in which mem­bers of a reli­gious group devel­op eth­no­cen­tric atti­tudes toward any­one per­ceived as dif­fer­ent. […]

Stud­ies have shown that reli­gious adher­ents are more likely than agnostics and athe­ists to rate con­ser­vat­ive “life val­ues” as the most import­ant prin­ciples under­ly­ing their belief sys­tems.

Those spe­cif­ic val­ues — social con­form­ity and respect for tra­di­tion — also most closely cor­rel­ate with racism. In short, people are attrac­ted to organ­ized reli­gion for the same reas­on some people are inclined toward racist think­ing: a belief in the sanc­tity of estab­lished divi­sions in soci­ety.

Of course there are numer­ous caveats. The most import­ant of which is that the cor­rel­a­tion is strongest with reli­gious fun­da­ment­al­ists and is “unclear” with those who are attrac­ted to reli­gion as a spir­itu­al pur­suit (as opposed to those who attend church as an oblig­a­tion).

The research­ers also note that the link is par­tic­u­larly strong with highly edu­cated sem­in­ary stu­dents, that the cor­rel­a­tion seems to have been decreas­ing in recent dec­ades, and that there is no link between “intrins­ic reli­gi­os­ity” and racist atti­tudes (although there is also no link between this “intrins­ic reli­gi­os­ity” and racial tol­er­ance).

via Intel­li­gent Life

Faith in Probability

Fol­low­ing the pub­lish­ing of his first book–Sum: Forty Tales from the After­livesDav­id Eagle­man is inter­viewed about reli­gion and his beliefs, provid­ing a refresh­ingly new and… empir­ic­al… take on reli­gious faith, athe­ism and agnosti­cism.

Every time you go into a book store, you find a lot of books writ­ten with cer­tainty – you find the athe­ist and you find the reli­gious and every­body is act­ing like they know the answer. I think what a life in sci­ence really teaches you is the vast­ness of our ignor­ance. We don’t really under­stand most of what’s hap­pen­ing in the cos­mos. Is there any after­life? Who knows. We don’t have any evid­ence for it. We don’t have any evid­ence against it. The thing that has always sur­prised me is that people are always act­ing as though they know the answer. […] As Voltaire said, “uncer­tainty is an uncom­fort­able pos­i­tion, but cer­tainty is an absurd pos­i­tion”. […]

I call myself a pos­sib­ili­an. The idea with pos­sib­ilian­ism is to explore new ideas and to shine a flash­light around the pos­sib­il­ity space to really under­stand what the size of that space is. The idea is not to com­mit to any par­tic­u­lar story, it’s not the end goal to say “OK, we’re going to fig­ure it out and com­mit to it” because it’s simply past the tool­box of sci­ence. The best we can do, and I find it a won­der­ful pur­suit, is to just try and under­stand what the pos­sib­il­it­ies are. […]

I don’t have a belief sys­tem, I only have a pos­sib­il­ity sys­tem!

Sum is the first work of ‘spec­u­lat­ive fic­tion’ by Eagle­man, a neur­os­cient­ist spe­cial­ising in the study of time per­cep­tion and syn­es­thesia.

via @mocost

The Evolution of the New Atheist Argument

In sum­mar­ising the main argu­ments for and against the New Athe­ist argu­ment, Anthony Got­tlieb provides a fairly even (yet far from com­pre­hens­ive) account of the evol­u­tion of 21st cen­tury athe­ism.

Through John Wis­dom’s 1944 Par­able of the Invis­ible Garden­er, Got­tlieb looks at how the argu­ments of “reli­gious apo­lo­gists” such as Kar­en Arm­strong are fall­ing back on argu­ments groun­ded in unfalsifi­able beliefs.

The par­able of the garden­er [raises] an unset­tlingly power­ful point about the nature of faith. If you believe some­thing, should­n’t it be pos­sible to say what would make that belief true or false? What is the con­tent of your so-called belief in the exist­ence of a God, or of a garden­er, if you can­not say what dif­fer­ence his pres­ence or absence would make to the world?

Richard Dawkins on the Labelling of Children

Richard Dawkins on a video for the BBC’s Daily Polit­ics dis­cusses the reli­gious and polit­ic­al labelling of chil­dren.

I feel very strongly that it’s wrong to label chil­dren with the opin­ions of their par­ents.

Nobody minds labelling a child an Eng­lish child, or a French child, or a Dutch child. But you’d think I was mad if I star­ted talk­ing about a post-mod­ern­ist child, or a Keyne­sian child, or a mon­et­ar­ist child, or a lib­er­al child, or a con­ser­vat­ive child.

And yet the whole of our soci­ety quite hap­pily buys into the idea that you can talk about a Cath­ol­ic child, or a Prot­est­ant child, or a Muslim child, or a Hindu child. That’s surely got to be wrong; to assume that a child will auto­mat­ic­ally inher­it the opin­ions of its par­ents about the uni­verse, the cos­mos and mor­al­ity. This must be some­thing that should be rec­ti­fied.

via @andrewpmsmith

We Project Our Beliefs Onto God

Those with a belief in God sub­con­sciously bestow him with their own opin­ions in order to “val­id­ate and jus­ti­fy” them. This is a the­ory that has recently been strengthened by two sur­pris­ingly simple yet effect­ive exper­i­ments con­duc­ted to find what the the­ist think about the beliefs of God, oth­er people and them­selves when it comes to con­tro­ver­sial issues.

The research­ers star­ted by ask­ing volun­teers who said they believe in God to give their own views on con­tro­ver­sial top­ics, such as abor­tion and the death pen­alty. They also asked what the volun­teers thought were the views of God, aver­age Amer­ic­ans and pub­lic fig­ures such as Bill Gates. Volun­teers’ own beliefs cor­res­pon­ded most strongly with those they attrib­uted to God.

Next, the team asked anoth­er group of volun­teers to under­take tasks designed to soften their exist­ing views, such as pre­par­ing speeches on the death pen­alty in which they had to take the oppos­ite view to their own. They found that this led to shifts in the beliefs attrib­uted to God, but not in those attrib­uted to oth­er people.

Giv­en that many use their deity of choice as a mor­al com­pass, the research­ers sug­gest that “infer­ences about God’s beliefs may […] point people fur­ther in whatever dir­ec­tion they are already facing” (i.e. strengthen their already pos­sibly con­tro­ver­sial view on a sub­ject).

The second exper­i­ment:

fMRI [was used] to scan the brains of volun­teers while they con­tem­plated the beliefs of them­selves, God or “aver­age Amer­ic­ans”. […]

In the first two cases, sim­il­ar parts of the brain were act­ive. When asked to con­tem­plate oth­er Amer­ic­ans’ beliefs, how­ever, an area of the brain used for infer­ring oth­er people’s men­tal states was act­ive. This implies that people map God’s beliefs onto their own.