Saturday, February 4, 2012

Religious Young Adults Become Obese By Middle Age

"Young adults who frequently attend religious activities are 50 percent more likely to become obese by middle age as young adults with no religious involvement, according to new Northwestern Medicine research. This is the first longitudinal study to examine the development of obesity in people with various degrees of religious involvement.


Previous Northwestern Medicine research established a correlation between religious involvement and obesity in middle-age and older adults at a single point in time. By tracking participants’ weight gain over time, the new study makes it clear that normal weight younger adults with high religious involvement became obese, rather than obese adults becoming more religious.


The study, which tracked 2,433 men and women for 18 years, found normal weight young adults ages 20 to 32 years with a high frequency of religious participation were 50 percent more likely to be obese by middle age after adjusting for differences in age, race, sex, education, income and baseline body mass index. High frequency of religious participation was defined as attending a religious function at least once a week.", March 23, 2011

Apatheism on the rise in USA survey shows

""The real dirty little secret of religiosity in America is that there are so many people for whom spiritual interest, thinking about ultimate questions, is minimal," says Mark Silk, professor of religion and public life at Trinity College, Hartford, Conn.


•44% told the 2011 Baylor University Religion Survey they spend no time seeking "eternal wisdom," and 19% said "it's useless to search for meaning."

•46% told a 2011 survey by Nashville-based evangelical research agency, LifeWay Research, they never wonder whether they will go to heaven.

•28% told LifeWay "it's not a major priority in my life to find my deeper purpose." And 18% scoffed at the idea that God has a purpose or plan for everyone.

•6.3% of Americans turned up on Pew Forum's 2007 Religious Landscape Survey as totally secular — unconnected to God or a higher power or any religious identity and willing to say religion is not important in their lives."

USA Today, 1/3/2012

Britain is becoming less religious, survey shows

 An interesting survey by NatCen shows that religion is indeed in decline in Britain. Download the PDF on religion here.

"The first point to note is that there is no evidence of a lifecycle effect – that is, as people grow older they become more or less religious. Non-affiliation remains relatively stable as each generation ages; for example, 30 per cent of those born between 1936–1945 did not follow a religion in 1983 (when they were aged 38–47 years), compared with 31 per cent in 2010 (when they were 65–74 years). 


Britain is becoming less religious, with the numbers who affiliate with a religion or attend religious services experiencing a long-term decline. And this trend seems set to continue; not only as older, more religious generations are replaced by younger, less religious ones, but also as the younger generations increasingly opt not to bring up their children in a religion – a factor shown to strongly link with religious affiliation and attendance later in life. 
What does this decline mean for society and social policy more generally? On the one hand, we can expect to see a continued increase in liberal attitudes towards a range of issues such as abortion, homosexuality, same-sex marriage, and euthanasia, as the influence of considerations grounded in religion declines. Moreover, we may see an increased reluctance, particularly among the younger age groups, for matters of faith to enter the social and public spheres at all. The recently expressed sentiment of the current coalition government to “do” and “get” God (Warsi, 2011) therefore may not sit well with, and could alienate, certain sections of the population. "

British Social Attitudes 28, 2011-2012

Now for the charts:
50 per cent has no religion in Britain

No religious affiliation, cohort analysis, 1983–2010
Current religious affiliation, by religious upbringing. Notice how despite having had religious upbringing a huge chunk ends up being non-religious.

Closely Watched Study Fails to Find Arsenic in Microbial DNA - Elizabeth Pennisi - AAAS - Science Insider

A new report from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute paints a grim picture of state science standards across the United States.

Indiana Senate passes bill putting...

John Timmer - ARS Technica 61 Comments

Obama boosts science in State of the...

Meredith Wadman - -... 20 Comments

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MLK Jr. on Prayer in Schools - Ed Brayton - Dispatches from the Culture Wars

Year of the Bible’ in Pennsylvania

Student Faces Town’s Wrath in Protest...

Abby Goodnough - The New York Times 80 Comments

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Volcanoes Indicted for Europe's Long, Big Chill - Richard A. Kerr - Science - AAAS

While temperatures rise, denialists reach lower

New Satellite Takes Spectacular...

Adam Mann - Wired Science 55 Comments

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Activists Fight Green Projects, Seeing U.N. Plot - Leslie Kaufman and Kate Zernike - The New York Times

warned one speaker at a recent Roanoke County, Va., Board of Supervisors meeting who turned out with dozens of people opposed to the county’s paying $1,200 in dues to a nonprofit that consults on sustainability issues.

Local officials say they would dismiss such notions except that the growing and often heated protests are having an effect.
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Tweet RELATED CONTENT New Rule: Atheism is not a religion!...

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No positive correlation between religion and social morality

The World Values Survey has some interesting data on how religion and social morality correlates. Unfortunately, the article I'm referring to is from the Norwegian magazine Fri Tanke, but there's always Google Translate.

"[Bo Rothstein] points out that none of the 25 different indicators World Values ​​Survey's measure of human welfare, such as absence of corruption or the degree of confidence increases if religion gets more influence. Rather, it is quite the opposite. The results show that the more a society dominated by secular values, the higher is the human welfare.

- And, add to Rothstein, the same pattern is also evident if one only looks at the country dominated by Christianity

The degree of religiosity is composed of answers to the following six questions:

- Regardless of whether you go to organized religious practice or not, would you say that you are a religious person, not a religious person, or a convinced atheist?

- Apart from weddings, funerals and baptisms, how often you will meet up at religious arrangements?

- How important is God in your life?

- Do you believe in God?

- Do you believe in life after death?

- Does your religion give you well-being and strength?"
Well, enough talk. Let's see some charts:

Secular-rational values vs. Control of Corruption
Religiosity scale vs. life expectancy
Religiosity scale vs. average schooling years
Traditional values vs. secular rational values

Also, take a look at this Swedish article by Bo Rothstein. (Original)

Why Religion Makes Only Some of Us Happy

"Religious people tend to feel better about themselves and their lives, but a new study finds that this benefit may only hold in places where everyone else is religious, too.
According to the new study of almost 200,000 people in 11 European countries, people who are religious have higher self-esteem and better psychological adjustment than the non-religious only in countries where belief in religion is common. In more secular societies, the religious and the non-religious are equally well-off.


For example, a believer gets a happiness boost in Turkey, where religion is part of the fabric of daily life and taking part means you're doing the "right" thing in your culture. But that same person wouldn't see any benefit in Sweden, where few people care much about religion.


Nonetheless, the findings suggest that research on religion and happiness in the United States — where religion is relatively important compared with many other nations — may not apply across all cultures.", 25 January 2012
In other words, it's good for you to be in the in group.

Friday, February 3, 2012

In Defense of Richard Dawkins - Christopher Hitchens - Free Inquiry

a revolutionary subject that is only just beginning to disclose its still-more revolutionary, and healing and educational, properties and aspects. Why should he sit still and see a valued and precious discipline being insulted, even threatened with not being taught? It’s no exaggeration to say that in some parts of the modern world, real efforts are being made to stifle evolutionary biology and to impose the teaching

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UPDATED: Muslims Declare Jihad on Dogs in Europe - Soeren Kern -

ID focuses on the political awareness within the Muslim and immigrant communities. Awareness about the need to organize, but also the need for mutual support."

Paul ter Linden, who represents the Dutch Freedom Party (PVV) on The Hague city council, responded to Küçük by saying: "In this country pet ownership is legal. Whoever disagrees with this should move to another country."

Dutch political commentators believe Küçük's declarations are a provocation designed to stir up the Muslim population in The Hague. Muslims -- who now make up more than 12% of the city's population of 500,000 -- view dogs as ritually unclean animals and Küçük's call for a ban on them is a sure vote-getter, they say.

The incident in Holland follows dog-related controversies in other European countries.

In Spain, two Islamic groups based in Lérida -- a city in the northeastern region of Catalonia where 29,000 Muslims now make up around 20% of the city's total population -- asked local officials to regulate the presence of dogs in public spaces so they do not "offend Muslims."

Muslims demanded that dogs be banned from all forms of public transportation including all city buses as well as from all areas frequented by Muslim immigrants. Muslims said the presence of dogs in Lérida violates their religious freedom and their right to live according to Islamic principles.

After the municipality refused to acquiesce to Muslim demands, the city experienced a wave of dog poisonings. More than a dozen dogs were poisoned in September 2011 (local media reports here, here, here, here and here) in Lérida's working class neighborhoods of Cappont and La Bordeta, districts that are heavily populated by Muslim immigrants and where many dogs have been killed over the past several years.

Local residents taking their dogs for walks say they have been harassed by Muslim immigrants who are opposed to seeing the animals in public. Muslims have also launched a number of anti-dog campaigns on Islamic websites and blogs based in Spain.

Read on


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Guy Adams - The Independent 82 Comments

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Thursday, February 2, 2012

Gays and Atheists in the Military

Sean Faircloth recently presented a list of political objectives to be reached through his new political strategy for atheism. The first of these was described as:

Our military shall serve and include all Americans, religious and non-religious, with no hint of bias and with no hint of fundamentalist extremism coloring our military decisions at home or abroad.

I rejected the idea that we can have a military that serves and includes all Americans. It would include and serve the American who takes a number of child brides, the Ku Klux Klan member, and the atheist who thinks that the 'religion' meme should be exterminated by exterminating all of those who are infected with it.

Nobody actually accepts the proposition that we must accept everybody We going to have standards for determining who the military should include and who it should serve, and some people and groups will not meet those standards. We are not going to put the child rapist, the KKK racist, the apostate-murdering Islamist, or the atheist seeking to euthanize anybody infected with the 'religion' meme on the "accepted" list.

As an aside, I want to mention that this is not an "either/or" question. We are going to find that the situation is more complex than simply branding certain qualities as making people "acceptable" or "unacceptable". However, for the purposes of this discussion, we don’t need to worry about those details. We can paint the room and add bring in the furniture after the structure is built.

The fundamental structure has us asking, in a broad sense, "How we are going to determine the broad general category in which to put individuals and groups?"

The first principle that I would advance - which I may call the Presumption of Innocence - is this:

Everybody starts on the "accepted" list and only moves to the "unaccepted" list with evidence sufficient to override this presumption.

This is a version of the principle that people are to be presumed innocent until proven guilty.

It will never be the duty of any individual or group to prove that they deserve a place on the "accepted" list. It will always be the duty of those who would exclude people or groups to provide good reason for removing them - proof beyond a reasonable doubt. Failure to prove a need to remove an individual or group from the "accepted" group preserves their place in that group.

One way to understand the presumption of innocence is by answering this question. Can you prove you did not sneak out and kill a young jogger at 4:00 AM on August 23, 2008? Consider this, and you can see why people generally have reason to promote this presumption of innocence.

The second principle - what one might call The Secular Principle - is this:

Religious reasons are not good reasons to move people into he "Unaccepted" group.

As a model for "good reasons" we should have in mind the reasons that would be considered acceptable in a court of law.

We would consider it a mockery of justice for a prosecutor to call to the witness stand some soothsayer, who kills a chicken in front of the jury, examines its entrails, and proclaims the accused "guilty" or "innocent". Similarly, we would not allow the prosecutor to present as evidence the accused's horoscope on the day that the crime took place, unless the horoscope actually helps to establish the real-world motive of the accused.

Similarly, swearing in a priest who says, "I spoke to God this morning and he said that the accused is guilty" is out of the question.

The main reason for excluding these types of testimony us that none of them offer any kind of public evidence. If some other priest takes the stand and says, "Well, my God said that the accused is innocent," we have no way to determine who is right. What type of public evidence can our priests bring to the jury to show that they revealed the true word of God and the other priest does not?

Faith may be "good enough" for a number of things. However, those who would be harmed - or removed from the "accepted" group - have a right to require something more than this. When it comes to declaring that the accused is guilty, or that apostates deserve to be killed, faith is not "good enough".

On the other hand, real world suffering counts as public evidence. The pain one feels on sticking one's hand into a bed of hot coals requires no belief in God and transcends religion. It is represented in the science of biology. That science considers not only the chemical reactions involved in experiencing pain, but the ouchiness of pain. We do not have a complete real-world theory of pain that excludes any link between it and behavior. It must include the real-world fact that pain is something that those who experience it have reason to avoid, even though they sometimes also have strong reason not to.

These types of facts can be offered as public evidence - and as reason to move people into the category of "unaccepted".

There are those who claim that atheists cannot explain the wrongness of causing pain, for example - that we cannot explain this without God. However, this dispute is a side show. They would also say that atheists cannot explain the existence of trees. However, disputes over how trees got here do not necessarily translate into disputes over whether trees actually exist. And disputes over how the wrongness of pain got here do not necessarily translate into disputes over whether there is actually a wrongness to causing pain.

Note the fundamental difference between this presentation and Faircloth's presentation. Faircloth said that we are going to accept everybody - religious and non-religious. This is a claim that I have wagered even Faircloth does not actually accept.

I, on the other hand, have argued that we are not going to accept everybody. We are going to divide people into those on the "accepted" list and those on the "unaccepted" list. That people and groups are not to be moved off of the "accepted" list unless proof beyond a reasonable doubt can be provided for moving them off. That this proof requires public evidence. And that religious reasons do not provide public evidence for removing people from the "unaccepted" category.

There is no good public reason to remove gays or atheists from the "accepted" category to the "unaccepted" category. Though many religious people try to find public reasons that correspond to their religious motivation, these public reasons are nothing more than a set of secular myths and rationalizations that aim to support conclusions that some people have adopted for religious reasons.

Their rationalizations provide a bigot's proof that a target group deserves to be targeted, not rational public evidence beyond a reasonable doubt - the way some southern slave owners rationalized away slavery by claiming that there were good secular advantages to slavery, even for blacks.

One thing we can say about religion is that it does have a tendency to go hand-in-hand with a disposition to believe wild and fanciful stories that just happen to support a desired conclusion. Though non-religous people clearly are not immune from this.

Here, we have a framework that takes seriously the fact that we are not going to put everybody in the "accepted" group, gives everybody a presumption of membership on the "accepted" list, and requires public evidence for moving them out of the "accepted" group. Religious evidence is denied a role of "public" evidence in these matters just as it is in a court of law and for the same reasons. This leaves no good public reason to move gays and atheists out of the "accepted" group. It provides no good reason to boo a gay soldier serving his country, or to hold that atheist service personnel are only qualified to follow orders and never to give them.

Tomorrow, I am going to add to this an account of why it is that gays and atheists appear on religious "unaccepted" list. I will look at what is really going on when gays and atheists face discrimination for religious reasons.

U.S. State Science Standards Are ‘Mediocre to Awful’ - Anna Kuchment - Scientific American Blogs

they often take the form of a list of facts and skills that students must master at each grade level. Each state is free to formulate its own standards, and numerous studies have found that high standards are a first step on the road to high student achievement.

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“It’s Part of their Culture” - Reading Nick Cohen in the light of the Jaipur affair - Richard Dawkins -

censorship in an age of freedom’.

Censorship and freedom of speech, then, are much in my mind this week. Cohen’s book, I should say, includes other aspects of censorship and intimidation which I shall not discuss here, including the tacit censorship imposed by the charter for libel tourism which is the current Law of England, and the intimidation of bank employees by dictatorial bosses like the odious

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Muslims Declare Jihad on Dogs in Europe - Soeren Kern -

ID focuses on the political awareness within the Muslim and immigrant communities. Awareness about the need to organize, but also the need for mutual support."

Paul ter Linden, who represents the Dutch Freedom Party (PVV) on The Hague city council, responded to Küçük by saying: "In this country pet ownership is legal. Whoever disagrees with this should move to another country."

Dutch political commentators believe Küçük's declarations are a provocation designed to stir up the Muslim population in The Hague. Muslims -- who now make up more than 12% of the city's population of 500,000 -- view dogs as ritually unclean animals and Küçük's call for a ban on them is a sure vote-getter, they say.

The incident in Holland follows dog-related controversies in other European countries.

In Spain, two Islamic groups based in Lérida -- a city in the northeastern region of Catalonia where 29,000 Muslims now make up around 20% of the city's total population -- asked local officials to regulate the presence of dogs in public spaces so they do not "offend Muslims."

Muslims demanded that dogs be banned from all forms of public transportation including all city buses as well as from all areas frequented by Muslim immigrants. Muslims said the presence of dogs in Lérida violates their religious freedom and their right to live according to Islamic principles.

After the municipality refused to acquiesce to Muslim demands, the city experienced a wave of dog poisonings. More than a dozen dogs were poisoned in September 2011 (local media reports here, here, here, here and here) in Lérida's working class neighborhoods of Cappont and La Bordeta, districts that are heavily populated by Muslim immigrants and where many dogs have been killed over the past several years.

Local residents taking their dogs for walks say they have been harassed by Muslim immigrants who are opposed to seeing the animals in public. Muslims have also launched a number of anti-dog campaigns on Islamic websites and blogs based in Spain.

Read on


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Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Universal Tolerance

I am going through Sean Faircloth's new political strategy for atheists. I have already covered his 6 principles for such a strategy. Now, I am ready to start looking at the 10 policy goals that this strategy is meant to achieve.

He expressed the first of these policy goals as follows:

Our military shall serve and include all Americans, religious and non-religious, with no hint of bias and with no hint of fundamentalist extremism coloring our military decisions at home or abroad.

Faircloth illustrated his point with the story of Stephen Hill, ". . . a gay serviceman who was booed at that Republican Tea-Party Debate"

I want to start by saying that there is nothing about being a serviceman that gives one an automatic immunity from criticism for one's words and behavior. Whether or not it was appropriate to boo this person has nothing at all to do with the fact that he was a serviceman.

Let us assume that somebody created a video to ask a question at a Republican debate in which he claimed to now have four under-age brides, or he claimed to be the Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan.

We would have booed.

Well, I would have.

It would not have been, in any sense of the word, an "unpatriotic" act to have done so. In fact, I would consider booing such a person to be the more patriotic act. It communicates the view that American service personnel should meet a higher moral standard than this person represents. It says, "America is - or strives to be - or should strive to be - better than this."

It is not at all difficult to imagine that those who booed Stephen Hill were expressing just such an attitude.

Of course, an instant response likely to pop into the minds of most of my readers is, "How dare they say that Stephen Hill or atheists do not meet that standard?"

Indeed. How dare they? Doing so is objectionable.

The point of this post is to point out that this is where the discussion starts. This is the claim to be made.

A military that "serves and includes all Americans" does not even make sense. We would have to include the American who takes four underage brides, or who asserts freely his contempt for all "niggers". We would have to include the religious fundamentalist who holds that America should engage in a new crusade to drive the infidels out of the Holy Lands, and one that holds that all apostates are to be "fragged" at the first opportunity. It would include the truly militant atheist who holds that we should clean religion out of the meme pool by euthanizing anybody who shows even the slightest symptoms of being infected with this virus.

No sane person actually wants a military that serves and includes these kinds of people. Nobody is actually advocating that the military serve and include "all Americans".

I am confident (though I could be wrong) that not even Sean Faircloth would literally advocate such a policy.

Instead, each of us has a mental list of who we would include and who we would exclude - who we would boo and who we would cheer. None of us cheers everybody and boos nobody.

We understand that, whenever somebody speaks about tolerating everybody, they are really talking about tolerating the people on "our list" while excluding the people not on "our list". That is why we applaud - we are cheering "our list" of people to include or exclude.

The further away the speaker gets from mentioning any specifics as to who he would include or exclude, up to the point where he destroys the assumption that he is not literally talking about including everybody, the more freedom the listener has to insert his or her own list into the speech. Thus, the greater the political appeal that such a claim can have.

Even the religious fundamentalist can cheer such a statement. He will likely interpret the world as one in which his brand of religious fundamentalism us not being tolerated or included. People keep forcing him to treat atheist and gay service personnel with dignity and respect. What about treating the person whose religion teaches contempt for gays and atheists with dignity and respect? Where is your love of tolerance then?

So, Sean Faircloth's first policy objective meets our criterion of political utility. It is vague nearly to the point if meaninglessness, allowing each person to fill in the gaps with their own prejudices, allowing everybody to cheer, even though they have different and conflicting ideas of what they are cheering.

In truth, Faircloth's use of the principle is not entirely empty. While he speaks about including "all Americans", the context makes it clear that he is advocating that gays and atheists be put on the "approved" list. This is not empty, and some people might object.

In a different context, somebody advancing nearly the same claim could understood as including those who hold that gays are not fit to serve and atheists fit only to take orders and never to give orders are on "our list". He would be seen as advocating tolerance for such people.

Faircloth offers no real defense of his proposal. Technically, his argument is that everybody should be included, gays and atheists are a part of "everybody". Therefore, gays and atheists should be included. However, everybody knows - including Sean Faircloth, I wager - that nobody accepts the first premise as literally true. Therefore, Faircloth is not actually offering a defense of his claim that gays and atheists be put in the "included" group.

Tomorrow, I am going to look at the issue from a different angle. This angle will reject the idea of including "all Americans", and take seriously the idea that we need a list of who to include and who to exclude - who we may cheer, and who we may boo. It will put gays and atheists on the "accepted" list. However, it will ground this on the false assumption that we are going to include "all Americans". It will take seriously the fact that a list is to be made, and some people are not going to make that list.

Unfortunately, this means that the principle will be more substantive, which means it will also be less useful in a political strategy.

Principles - Vague vs Specific

After spending four weeks discussing Sean Faircloth's new political strategy for atheists, I am going to start looking at his list of policy objectives.

However, before I do, I would like to make some general comments about policy objectives.

It is politically useful not to make them too specific. The more specific you make them, the smaller the audience you can appeal to in defending them. Every specific claim will peel off a set of potential supporters who do not like that interpretation, but who thinks a different interpretation still fits the general principle.

By keeping one's policy objectives vague, one can continue to appeal to a larger audience. People will tend to fill in the gaps with their own ideas. This means that different people with incompatible beliefs can all claim to be obeying the same vague principle.

We find an excellent example of this in the Bill of Rights. These items are vague - intentionally so. That is how the authors got the votes to get these amendments passed.

"Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech."

What does this mean?

I have given and defended an interpretation in my last post. However, nothing of that interpretation shows up in the First Amendment itself. Somebody else could offer a different interpretation with key elements that conflict the one I gave, and can still claim to be defending a right to freedom of speech. Both of us may have reason to vote for the vague and general principles, even though, in practice, we would be at odds on a number of issues relevant to that principle.

One relevant point to make is that only an absolute purist defends the idea that the First Amendment implies that Congress shall make no law abridging libel, slander, or revealing military information to the enemy. Nor does the right to freedom of speech invalidate all laws against fraud and misrepresentation when spoken or written.

None of these points are covered in the principle itself. There is no way either I, or the purist, can appeal to the principle itself and say, "This is how it must be applied". We must bring in other facts - facts outside of the specific wording - to make our case as to what the wording actually allows or prohibits.

Some people believe that we can examine the words and actions of the original authors - in this case, the founding fathers - to determine its meaning. This option fails for three reasons.

First, it follows from what I have already written that the vagueness of the Bill of Rights allows people with different and conflicting views to support the same bill. To use the intentions of the original author is to use a conflicting mix of attitudes, each of which the holder could somehow shoehorn into the principle that was passed. The idea that all of the founding fathers had exactly the same thoughts in their head regarding each of these principles, and that we can determine what that common shared belief was, is simply absurd.

Second, nothing can be more clear than the fact that, for the founding fathers, there is sometimes a huge gap between principle and practice. Slavery and the denial of voting rights to women provide the clearest examples of this. When their practice deviated from their principles, we have a question we need to answer. Are we going to follow their practices and abandon their principles? Or are we going to preserve their principles and adopt a more consistent set of practices?

Third, the founding fathers believed that there were moral truths independent of the opinions of mere humans. This is an opinion that I share. There exists, in the objective world, certain moral rights and a just government is one that respects those rights. When the Bill of Rights says that certain rights may not be abridged, they are not saying, "My opinion of what these rights are shall not be abridged". They are saying, "The rights that exist must not be abridged". From which it follows, "If my opinion about these rights deviates from the truth - because I am mortal and prone to error - the Constitution tells you to ignore my opinion and go with the moral facts."

All of these elements leaves open the possibility of different people, with different political and moral beliefs, supporting the same vaguely worded general principle. These elements allows each of them to draw the conclusion that, "In the end, through debate and discussion, my interpretation will win out. So, yes, I can support this principle."

It is politically useful to have a set of vague general principles.

However, this is not a political blog. In the confines of these blog pages, I care nothing about political advantage. I wish to report on the moral facts of the matter - even where some if those facts might be politically unwise.

I will leave it to the politicians to denounce any politically harmful elements, as they see fit.

Starting tomorrow, I will look at Faircloth's policy objectives, and examine, specifically, what they should allow and prohibit.

Black Nonbelievers Speak Out - Press Release - Center for Inquiry

On the ads, images of writer-anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston, poet-activist Langston Hughes, and social reformer-publisher Frederick Douglass are paired with contemporary freethinkers. Representing their respective hometowns are activists leading the way for African American nonbelievers, including Mark D. Hatcher of the Secular Students at Howard University, Mandisa L. Thomas of Black Nonbelievers, Inc. (Atlanta), Kimberly Veal of Black Nonbelievers of Chicago, Jamila Bey of African Americans for Humanism

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Abortion, an anti-Christian student union, and the closing of the British mind - Cristina Odone - The Telegraph

that sort of thing. I certainly would never have expected to be forced to listen to pro-abortion arguments.

But that is precisely what a Catholic student at UCL endures today. The UCL Union voted this month to ensure that "any future open events by UCLU Clubs or Societies focusing on the issue of termination invite an anti-choice speaker, a pro-choice speaker, and an independent chair, to ensure there is a balance to the argument". In other words, no matter what its members' religious beliefs, they must agree to give a platform to supporters of abortion. Oh, and to ensure that the "chair" in such a debate, be "independent". Given its heavy-handed stage-management, I'm surprised that the Union doesn't request the right to pack the audience with pro-choicers too (just as many people suspect the BBC packs the Question Time audience with liberal Lefties).

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Monday, January 30, 2012

Do kids have to be taught about the supernatural? - Thomas Rees - [epiphenom] the science of religion and non-belief

The basic set-up has been used in previous studies. Half the kids were shown a video of someone calling herself "Princess Alice" who said she had special invisible powers and would be present through the whole ensuing test. The other half were just shown a video of the same person wearing jeans and t-shirt who simply welcomed them and said she was a friend.

After a few other tests, they were given a puzzle by the experimenter. Basically, this involved some numbers hidden on the bottom of wooden blocks that were shown to the child and shuffled behind a screen. The child then had to guess where the different numbers were - an impossible task of course.
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While temperatures rise, denialists reach lower - Phil Plait - Bad Astronomy

'Harry Potter and yoga are evil', says...

Nick Squires - The Telegraph 74 Comments

For most people it is a way of toning the limbs and soothing the stresses of everyday life, but the Catholic Church’s best-known exorcist says yoga is evil.

"Is There Anybody There?"

Nicholas Humphrey - YouTube -... 17 Comments


Phil Plait - Bad Astronomy 20 Comments

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Freedom of Speech and Freedom to Criticize


I spent the first four weeks of his year - a presidential election year - discussing the six points of Sean Faircloth's new political strategy for atheists.

Faircloth followed up his presentation of these six points with a second list – a list of ten political objectives.

Whenever somebody presents such a list, there is an irresistible urge on the part of those who would comment on such a list to counter with their own “improved” list. Then the discussion gets bogged down in a trivial debate over the fine differences between each list.

I am going to struggle to resist that urge - and fail in at least one respect.

It is, after all, an irresistible urge.

The principle that I would put at the top of the list - a principle on which all of the others depend - is that the right to freedom of speech includes the right to criticize and condemn what other people believe. Governments shall not infringe on this right, but instead shall organize its institutions to protect speakers from private violence.

It is argued in some circles that a prohibition on criticism is required to "keep the peace". Somebody's beliefs get criticized, they become maniacal and violent, and the next thing you know you have suicide bombers in the shopping malls, on the busses, and interfering with airline traffic in various ways.

This strategy – that of banning criticism of groups who respond to criticism with violence – will fail to keep the peace for at least two reasons.

First, it teaches people that they can control speech just by threatening violence against those who say anything they do not like.

Have the American Astrological Society threaten suicide bombers any time somebody says anything critical of astrology, or have Steven Spielberg fans threaten to blow up the head offices of any company that prints a negative review of one of his movies. According to this philosophy of banning criticism to keep the peace, criticisms of astrology and Stephen Spielberg movies would have to be banned.

After all, we cannot possibly blame the astrologers or Steven Spielberg fans for threatening violence. That is out of the question.

We can imagine a group of scientists who accept a disease theory for the extinction of the dinosaurs threatening to detonate bombs in any classroom where a professor advances an asteroid impact theory. Using the idea, teaching that there are flaws in the disease theory would have to be prohibited.

In fact, those who accept the theory of evolution could put this philosophy to use. Just threaten to kill people any time somebody criticizes evolution, and criticizing evolution would be banned.

Except, scientists (and science as a practice) thrives on criticism. Remove criticism from science, and science itself will come to an end.

The flaw in the philosophy of banning criticism when those criticized threaten to respond with violence is that it gives political power to those who threaten violence. As such, it becomes

We can see from these examples that the organizations that control speech are those that are willing to use violence against its critics. We do not expect prohibitions on criticisms of astrology and Steven Spielberg precisely because these are not organizations prone to violence. How are we going to decide what to prohibit and what to permit? The answer that this philosophy provides is to identify groups willing to respond to criticism with violence and ban criticism of those groups – to “keep the peace”.

One of the effects of this philosophy will be expand the number of groups that decide to respond to criticism with violence. While I doubt that astrologers, Steven Spielberg fans, or scientists will likely take up the practice, there are a lot of organizations that might find it tempting.

Second, ultimately if you follow this philosophy, the state as to choose a set of beliefs and defend it from all criticism by threatening to punish all critics. Assume that you have a group that believes X. Well, then, everybody else who believes Y - where Y implies not-X – is necessarily “critical” of the belief that X. If one group believes there is only one God and Mohammed is its prophet, then anybody who does not accept this must hold that it is not the case that there is only one God and Mohammed is its prophet. To refuse to believe X – or to at least announce that one does not believe X – can be taken as an insult to everybody who believes X. It says to all believers, “I think you are wrong. I am better than you because my belief is true and yours is false.”

The state will have no option but to choose a set of beliefs and to prohibit anybody from denying the :”truth” of those beliefs.

I want to add that, while I have used religious examples in this post, everything I have written would apply to atheistic political movements as well. I have known Ayn Rand Objectivists who spoke passionately in favor of the use of violence against the state. Atheistic anarchists and communists have taken this route. It is not impossible for an atheist organization to take the position that claims made critical of atheism and in defense of religion are socially destructive and should be met with violence. From which it would then follow that, in order to "keep the peace", criticism of atheism should be prohibited.

I also suspect that, if there were a successful movement to ban the criticism of beliefs in order to "keep the peace", that it would not take long for some atheist group somewhere in the world to start threatening violence against its critics while making reference to this prohibition on criticism.

What is the first item on my list of political objectives?

Government shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech, which includes the freedom to criticize other beliefs through words and pictures. And instead the government shall establish its institutions so as to protect critics from those who would respond to criticism with violence or threats of violence.

Rock Beyond Belief - just a note about photo ID's - - - -

Richard Dawkins at the Jaipur
Literature Festival

Globally renowned authors enthrall...

Santanu Ganguly - India Education... 4 Comments

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Wife and daughters died in 'honour killing', court told - Guy Adams - The Independent

Threat of Violence Quashes Even
Virtual Rushdie Appearance

Muslim extremists storm Irshad's book...

- - YouTube - IrshadManjiTV &... 241 Comments

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Beyond the Sacred - Kenan Malik -

To talk about blasphemy is also to talk about the idea of the sacred. To see something as blasphemous is to see it in some way as violating a sacred space. In recent years, both the notion of blasphemy and that of the sacred have transformed. What I want to explore here is the nature of that transformation, and what it means for free speech.

For believers, the idea of the sacred is key to moral life. Detachment from the sacred, the former Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor claimed at the installation ceremony for his successor, Archbishop Vincent Nicholls, has been responsible for war and terror, sin and evil. In this view the acceptance of the sacred is indispensable for the creation of a moral framework and for the injection of meaning and purpose into life.

I don’t want to get into a discussion here about the relationship between religion and morality. As an atheist, I do not see myself as lacking a moral compass, or being unaware of boundaries, or being burdened by a sense of a purposeless life. What I do want to do is look more carefully at what we mean by the

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Atheist clergymen and belief in belief - Helen De Cruz - international cognition and culture institute

Student Faces Town’s Wrath in Protest Against a Prayer

Jessica Ahlquist, a Rhode Island atheist, won a suit against her school's prayer poster.
Gretchen Ertl for The New York Times

Sex & God: How Religion Distorts...

Darrel Ray ED.D. - IPC Press 39 Comments

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Sunday, January 29, 2012

When Pseudoscience Kills - Dr. Steve Novella - James Randi Educational Foundation

College of Medicine is a lobby group promoting
unproven treatments

Scientists buzz Simon Cowell for...

Alok Jha - The Guardian 27 Comments

Sense About Science publishes its annual review of celebrities' misleading claims, including Cowell's intravenous vitamins

Giving placebos such as reiki to cancer...

Edzard Ernst - The Guardian 47 Comments

Reiki and other placebo therapies may improve cancer patients' wellbeing but it deprives them of more effective treatments

Edzard Ernst: at war with prince

Susanna Rustin - Guardian 25 Comments

America’s top scientist again peddles...

Jerry Coyne - Why Evolution Is True 137 Comments

Resist this medical obscurantism

Leading article - The Independent 28 Comments


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Mice sing to impress the girls, scientists find - - - University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna and World Science staff

Photograph: Peter Dazeley/Getty Images
Can you really be addicted to the internet?

Chimpanzees consider their audience...

Victoria Gill - BBC Nature 6 Comments

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“Adam”–Telling God Goodbye - - - The Agnostic Pastor

letter’, Telling God Goodbye, written by Adam. Adam is a fellow member of The Clergy Project and fellow pastor who is in the closet. Adam currently serves in the music ministry of a large church and is a gifted songwriter.

Adam was one of the original five pastors in the Dennett/LaScola study on Clergy who’ve lost their faith.  ( Adam has also been a pivotal part of the design and launch of The Clergy Project support site for agnostic/atheist clergy.  His work with TCP has affected many pastors, like myself, offering a safe place for us to share with others walking the same path.

Adam is a good friend of mine and has been a true source of encouragement as I’ve struggled with my loss of faith.  I know you’ll enjoy his story.

Telling God Goodbye

It has been nearly three years since I admitted to myself and a few select friends that I no longer believed in a god or the supernatural. This was not a trivial realization for a fundamental, conservative, evangelical member of the clergy. It was the day after our Easter service in 2009 that I also realized that I desperately needed to leave the ministry. What a painstaking and at the same time exciting journey it has been as I have prepared to step from the sheltered sanctuary into the real world. Now I sit in my office and reflect as this Sunday will be my last as a pastor after 25 years or service. While I have not a shred of belief left in the existence of god, I find myself seeking closure on this long chapter of my life. After all, God and I were best friends.

I remember crying when I first heard Julia Sweeney describe when she finally said goodbye to God in her fabulous monologue

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I Can't Believe It's Not Religion

As every atheist knows, it can often be an exasperating task to explain that atheism is not a religion, and well, I guess this picture won't be of any help.

Science vs religion

Here's a new picture I made.
Comes as a T-shirt too:

Why Atheism Will Replace Religion: New Evidence

"Atheists are heavily concentrated in economically developed countries, particularly the social democracies of Europe. In underdeveloped countries, there are virtually no atheists. Atheism is a peculiarly modern phenomenon. Why do modern conditions produce atheism? In a new study to be published in August, I provide compelling evidence that atheism increases along with the quality of life (1).


The reasons that churches lose ground in developed countries can be summarized in market terms. First, with better science, and with government safety nets, and smaller families, there is less fear and uncertainty in people's daily lives and hence less of a market for religion. At the same time many alternative products are being offered, such as psychotropic medicines and electronic entertainment that have fewer strings attached and that do not require slavish conformity to unscientific beliefs.", Nigel Barber, Ph.D, July 14, 2011

Good news!

Rising atheism in America puts 'religious right on the defensive'

"The exact number of faithless is unclear. One study by the Pew Research Centre puts them at about 12% of the population, but another by the Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society and Culture at Trinity College in Hartford puts that figure at around 20%.Most experts agree that the number of secular Americans has probably doubled in the past three decades – growing especially fast among the young. It is thought to be the fastest-growing major "religious" demographic in the country. 


There are other indications, too. For a long time studies have shown that about 40% of US adults attend a church service weekly. However, other studies that actually counted those at church – rather than just asking people if they went – have shown the true number to be about half to two-thirds of that figure.", Saturday 1 October 2011

Feelgood article in The Guardian.

America's secular revival

"Five signs that, despite the GOP's efforts, religion's impact on U.S. politics will soon decline

1. American religious belief is becoming more fractured 


2. Non-belief — and acceptance of non-belief — on the rise 
Last month was the first time atheists were knocked from the top of America’s most hated list, an honor that now belongs to the Tea Party. While this development may have more to do with the fact that the mainstream media’s love affair with the Tea Party is not shared by most Americans, it also dovetails with increased visibility and acceptance of atheism. 


3. Growing numbers of young people who do not identify as religious 
As recently as 1990, all but 7 percent of Americans claimed a religious affiliation, a figure that had held constant for decades. Today, 17 percent of Americans say they have no religion, and these new “nones” are very heavily concentrated among Americans who have come of age since 1990. Between 25 percent and 30 percent of twentysomethings today say they have no religious affiliation — roughly four times higher than in any previous generation. 


4. Hate group that exploited religion to bash gays hemorrhaging funds 
In 2008, Focus on the Family had to cut its staff by 18 percent. Last week, FOTF had to do another round of cuts, again citing a drop in donations (though it claims the lower funding is a result of tough economic times). 


5. Getting married by friends 
A study last year by and showed that 31 percent of their users who married in 2010 used a family member or friend as the officiant, up from 29 percent in 2009, the first year of the survey."
Salon Mag/Alternet Sep 29, 2011

The shrinking [Christian] majority

"Britain is still a Christian country but the drift towards secularism continues. 


The headline figures suggest that the United Kingdom remains a predominantly religious and mostly Christian country. Almost seven in ten (68.5 per cent) identify themselves to researchers as Christians -- far more than the 15 per cent who regularly attend church. Less than a quarter (23 per cent) profess no religion at all (although in Wales, the figure is considerable higher, at close to one in three. Of the population as a whole, 4.4% is Muslim -- more than all other minority faiths put together -- but still less than one person in 20. (The full IHS figures can be found here.) 
This picture of stability may be something an illusion, however. The last time this survey was conducted, in 2009-2010, the figure for Christian affiliation was 71.4 per cent and for no religion was just 20 per cent. A movement of 3 per cent from a Christian identity to a non-religious one in a single year is potentially a dramatic one. The annual population survey, which has included a religion question since 2004, records what looks like a consistent pattern. In 2004-2005, the figures stood at around 78 per cent Christians and less than 16 per cent having no belief. " 

New Statesman, Nelson Jones, 29 September 2011

Doing good is not the preserve of the religious

"This point was demonstrated yet again last week by the latest figures from the government's citizenship survey. In terms of civic engagement and formal volunteering, the figures show no significant difference between those with a religion and those with no religion (57% and 56% respectively). There is scarcely any difference in participation between those with no religion and self-described Christians (56% and 58%). At 44%, the proportion of Hindus and Muslims participating in civic engagement and formal volunteering is actually lower than the proportion of non-religious people doing so, and the lowest of all groups. This is no flash in the pan – it is a continuing feature of the figures over a number of years. 

The figures supplement other data that makes the same point, not only from previous years' citizenship surveys. In 2007, Faith and Voluntary Action, from the National Council of Voluntary Organisations found that "religious affiliation makes little difference in terms of volunteering", and as a matter of simple numbers, the overwhelming majority of the voluntary, community and charity sector in the UK are secular., Andrew Copson, 26 September 2011
Just as I've been thinking but it's really nice to have the statistics now.

Hygiene more important than religion to mothers survey shows

I came across this international survey via NSS:
It shows that religion has the lowest priority among mothers and fathers whereas hygiene has the top priority.
Here's the full report (page 22). (See also for more information about who produced the survey).

Religion in retreat in Britain

"A large-scale survey of British attitudes has been carried out by YouGov–Cambridge (a collaboration between pollsters YouGov and the University of Cambridge’s Department of Politics and International Studies) has some revealing statistics on religion. A representative sample of 64,303 adult Britons aged 18 and over responded.

78% (82% of the over-55s) agreed and 12% disagreed that religion should be a private matter and had no place in politics

In response to the question “What is your religion?” 40% of adults professed no religion, 55% were Christian and 5% of other faiths – age made a major difference, with only 38% of the 18–34s being Christian and 53% having no religion, whereas for the over-55s the figures were 70% and 26% respectively

35% described themselves as very or fairly religious and 63% as not very or not at all religious – there were no big variations by demographics (even by age), but Londoners (41%) did stand out as being disproportionately religious, doubtless reflecting the concentration of ethnic minorities in the capital

79% agreed and 11% disagreed that religion is a cause of much misery and conflict in the world today

72% agreed and 15% disagreed that religion is used as an excuse for bigotry and intolerance, with a high of 81% inScotlandwhere sectarianism has often been rife

35% agreed and 45% disagreed that religion is a force for good in the world, dissenters being more numerous among men (50%) than women (41%)


Full tables can be seen here."

National Secular Society, 23 Sep 2011
Lots more numbers in the article.

A rough decade for American congregations

"A new decade-long survey of American congregations shows religious health and vitality are weaker than they were 10 years ago.


Congregations are also having hard times financially, the survey found.  In 2000, 31% of survey participants reported excellent financial health.  In 2010, that number plummeted to just 14%.


Roozen writes that a variety of factors led to the decline, but overall, there are fewer Americans in the pews, and "... more than 1 in 4 American congregations had fewer than 50 in worship in 2010, and just under half had fewer than 100. Overall, median weekend worship attendance of your typical congregation dropped from 130 to 108 during the decade, according to the FACT surveys."


The decline hit across religious and denominational lines, sparing no one, Roozen wrote. He said that "no single category or kind of congregation ... was exempt from the decadal downsizing of worship attendance."

The data came from Faith Communities Today surveys and represents 11,077 congregations and 120 denominations of Christian, Jewish, and Muslim traditions, the institute said."

CNN Belief Blog, September 20th, 2011