Friday, June 29, 2007

Science Not the Cause of Non-Religious Scientists

From LiveScience:

Scientists are less religious than the general population, a new study shows, but the reason has little to do with their study of science or academic pressures.

I'm not sure how to interpret these results or if they're even credible.
So why are scientists less religious? The data indicate that being raised in a religious home is the best predictor of how religious someone will be—scientist or member of the general population.
Perhaps they should have examined whether the data suggest that being raised in a free-thinking non-religious home is a predictor of taking up a scientific career path?

Some interesting items from the article:

  • 52 percent of scientists surveyed said they had no religious affiliation, compared with only 14 percent of the general population.
  • Of the religious scientists, however, 15 percent identified themselves as Jewish compared to 2 percent of the religious general population.
  • 14 percent of the general population described themselves as "evangelical" or "fundamentalist.” Less than 2 percent of scientists, however, identified themselves as either of these.
Well, Judaism promotes questioning and arguing, unlike many of the Christian dogmas. Jewish culture strongly promotes education as well. That might explain the disproportionate representation of scientists who identify themselves as Jewish. How many of those scientists accept the central proposition of the existence of a god would have been another interesting question for the survey.

Curiously, younger scientists were more likely to believe in God and attend religious services than older scientists.

If these young and religious scientists continue to stay religious, Ecklund said, "it could indicate an overall shift in attitudes toward religion among those in the academy."

Perhaps the longer one applies the scientific method to the study of life, the harder it is to accept religious ideas. Indeed it would be interesting to follow this up in perhaps 30 years to see how many of the currently young and religious scientists in the survey remain so later in life, and of those, how many continued their scientific pursuits. Moreover, it would be very interesting to interview them now and in the future to learn how they reconcile their scientific studies with their religious beliefs, and whether and how that may have changed over the years.

One footnote-- the original article title is "Science Not to Blame for Non-Religious Scientists" [emphasis mine]. This is a curiously slanted title for a supposedly scientific journal. Use of the word Blame implies the judgment that lack of religiosity among scientists (or any other group, I suppose) is a bad thing for which it is necessary to assign blame. A supposedly impartial scientific presentation should have chosen a title more similar to mine, making no qualitative judgment about the study results.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Ethnic Hatred

From the Terrorism Awareness Project, a slide show about the history of the Middle East in general and Israel in particular. This site and its materials have the feel of pure propaganda slanted in favor of Israel and will quickly be dismissed as such by those with opposing agendas.

But is it really just propaganda when it also happens to be historical fact?
Do your own research, not of opinions on any side, but of the historical facts. Dig down and find the truth. Visit the region. Observe the social structures, group and individual behaviors, attitudes, achievements, and prosperity of people there. Draw your own conclusions.

The sad story of the Middle East exemplifies the legacy of religion in our world. This story -- this madness -- continues today as you read this. The double-standard applied to the sides in this conflict and throughout the history of Israel is real. Where does it come from? Why does the rest of the world stand idly by and let it happen, or worse, accept it in our own thinking? Why are the nations of the middle east so intensely focused on deadly and costly conflict that gains them nothing when all stand to gain so very much from cooperation? What the hell is wrong with these people?!? Religion.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Confessions of a Former Christian

From Agnostic Atheism:

Watch this video (5:04) by a self-described Atheist, former Christian, discussing his limited understanding of reality as a Christian, and the freedom he now embraces as an Atheist.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Pornography, Alcohol, and Children

Pornography is a popular topic for religious attack. Not entirely by coincidence, what is commonly called pornography is ubiquitous on the Internet. But why should erotic depictions of human beings engaged in various sexual activities be frowned upon in the first place? We are sexual beings. Sex is a basic fact of our very existence, not some deviant behavior reserved to perversely twisted members of our population. A very basic aspect of our being is that sexual stimulation is pleasurable.

Sexual repression promulgated by religion might have its roots in a plague of sexually transmitted diseases long ago, either as a direct reaction to the conscious realization that sex led to the diseases, or as an institutional effort to bring the problem under control, or perhaps both.

Today we understand sexually transmitted diseases, their transmission mechanisms, and precautions we can take against them. As informed adults, whether or not disease originated it, why should we continue to carry this sexually repressive baggage?

The notion of “protecting our children” from explicit sexual depictions, or even of any knowledge of sex at all until they reach a certain magical age, after which they’re suddenly expected to be ready for this knowledge, also is ludicrous. Children naturally develop sexual feelings at a fairly early age and begin to act on them. Somehow many forget this by the time they reach adulthood and don’t recognize this in their own children. They often react in disbelief and anger when they learn that their children explore and experiment sexually, usually with themselves and/or others in their own age group, often well before puberty. But this is actually normal and healthy human behavior that would be far better served if parents communicated with their children about it, educating and equipping them for responsible conduct in that area; rather than living as so many seem to, in denial of it, or believing that it’s somehow a “sin”. While it might not be appropriate to actively encourage sexual experimentation by their children, neither is it appropriate to saddle them with shame and guilt over it, as they will carry this forward into adulthood.

Similarly, absolute prohibition against restaurants serving wine or beer to anyone under some magical age, even when their parents are present, probably does more harm than good. As a result, when kids do become “of age”, they often end up engaging in drinking orgies to indulge in what has been denied them up to that time, sometimes with dire consequences. If instead they were introduced to wine and beer as a normal part of their upbringing, along with appropriate guidance for responsible consumption and behavior with respect to alcoholic beverages generally, by the time they reached adulthood, it would be no big deal – just part of life, and they’d likely be better equipped to handle it responsibly.

Childhood is the time when our foundational understanding of our world develops. The vast majority of us are born with a burning, passionate intelligence and curiosity about our world and incredible abilities to absorb and categorize information. The conduct of the parents in response to this curiosity and the questions that arise from it is critical at this stage. It can promote the healthy development of an intelligent mind, or it can damage that intelligence irreparably.

Some parents actively discourage their children from “asking too many questions” or “thinking too much”. Frankly, this practice is stupid, and can do tremendous harm to the child’s social and intellectual development. Some parents feel threatened if their child asks a question to which they don’t know the answer, and may lash out in response. This is an abusive parental behavior.

Effective parents, faced with a question to which they don’t know the answer, readily acknowledge their own ignorance on the matter. They’re more likely to respond with something like “I don’t know, let’s find out”, and proceed to research the question together with the child, subject of course to that child’s attention span. The result is that not only has the question been answered, both the parent and child having learned something in the process; but also the child has been shown several important things: that parents don’t know everything and shouldn’t be expected to, that it’s reasonable and proper to admit to not knowing something, and perhaps most importantly, how to find information. In today’s Internet environment, such research can be conducted quickly and conveniently.

Many of the ideas presented in this blog are outside of many people’s accepted world view, but despite this (or perhaps because of it), they merit serious consideration, particularly by those very people. We can better ourselves if we frequently examine our own ideas and behaviors, try to step outside of our usual frame of reference, ask ourselves honestly whether these ideas make objective sense to us or whether they should be discarded or adjusted; whether we are happy with our behaviors or whether we need to alter our habits, and work to make the necessary changes. As an ethical guideline, introspection is primary. Teaching this to our children, by example and explanation, helps them to be better people as well.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

On Prohibition of Internet Gambling

From Reason Online:

Reason Senior Editor Radley Balko testified before the House Financial Services Committee on June 8, 2007 on the issue of Internet gambling (transcript of his prepared testimony) (pdf).

Yet another infringement of our rights and freedoms motivated, no doubt by right-wing Christian influences in our federal government. Personally, I don't care much about poker, but the principle of the thing - that this group of people infiltrates our federal government disproportionately to their representation in the population at large and proceeds to try at every opportunity to impose their perverse values on the rest of us with such arrogant impunity, despite their own abysmal moral track record - is an affront to the very liberty on which the United States is founded.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Anger Fuels Better Decisions

From Live Science:
The next time you are plagued with indecision and need a clear way out, it might help to get angry, according to a surprising new study.


Maybe this sheds a different light on the notion of the Angry Atheist.

Could this possibly also be suggesting that deliberately antagonizing religious types might actually have a value beyond the perverse pleasure of watching them squirm and further trumpet their ignorance?

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Media Negligence: Paris Hilton is Not Newsworthy

From Atheist Revolution:

"Where is the media? They are covering Paris Hilton."

Why does anyone care about the misbehavior of this spoiled brat? Is this just another manifestation of some kind of inherent fascination people have with nonsense?

Star Trek's Borg: A Metaphor for the Christian Bible's Heaven?

From Ain't Christian:

I can't imagine a more frightening story than that of the Bible's heaven. Unfortunately most Christians believe heaven as a pleasant eternal vista for which their souls reside as one with their God, forever. Oh, but what they have misconstrued. According to the bible, heaven is a 1500 mile cube city, and its inhabitants have little freedom of expression.


Saturday, June 9, 2007

Testing the Supernatural

From The Athiest Experience:
One criticism that is often applied to intelligent design is that it is fundamentally untestable and hence can never be scientific. But is this really true?
[T]here are so many different implausible things for me to imagine, that there's very little point in treating any of them as true without evidence.


Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Without a Doubt

The title might suggest overconfidence. This is about just the opposite.

  • Without doubt, there is no learning.
  • Without doubt, there is no knowledge.
  • Without doubt, there is no wisdom.
  • Without doubt, there is no future.
  • Without doubt, there is no hope.
  • Without doubt, there is no peace.
  • Without doubt, there is only stagnation.

Absolute certainty is absolute ignorance.

The Republicans Still Don’t Get It


During the first Republican presidential debate, Sam Brownback, Tom Tancredo, and Mike Huckabee all said they did not believe in evolution.

Brownback later displayed further ignorance about evolution when writing a pathetic op-ed for the New York Times.

So perhaps you thought those candidates learned their lesson before last night’s Republican debate? Not so much.


This is the field from which we have to choose. It's hard to imagine a worse president than George W. Bush but the ever-faithful GOP, it seems, is working overtime to provide just such a candidate. If one of these guys gets elected on the heels of the current disastrous administration, the America we have worked so hard to build and advance is in serious jeopardy.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Religion for Dummies?

Saw this in a local bookstore and couldn't resist snapping a picture.


I came across two similarly titled pieces examining the practice of prayer: What’s the Point with Prayer? and Prayer: What’s the point? Both identify pretty much the same self-defeating issues with Prayer and call into question the reasons for it and expectations of the people doing it. To my knowledge, neither inspired the other, at least not directly. Over the years, I've often had similar thoughts but hadn't gotten around to writing about them. I recommend reading both.

At this point, my suspicion is that to pray individually is roughly equivalent to talking to yourself. When you actually hear your voice verbalizing your thoughts, it seems to help focus on those thoughts and it stores them differently, perhaps redundantly. It may be a crude way to enhance the communication between the brain hemispheres or something on that order. In any case, many people find it useful to some degree to talk to themselves.

Praying as a group seems to serve an entirely different function, a social one, that of demonstrating conformance to a group standard in an effort to better fit into that group.