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.