Saturday, February 11, 2012

Six Reasons Young Christians Leave Church

"No single reason dominated the break-up between church and young adults. Instead, a variety of reasons emerged. Overall, the research uncovered six significant themes why nearly three out of every five young Christians (59%) disconnect either permanently or for an extended period of time from church life after age 15.

Reason #1 – Churches seem overprotective.
Reason #2 – Teens’ and twentysomethings’ experience of Christianity is shallow.
Reason #3 – Churches come across as antagonistic to science.
Reason #4 – Young Christians’ church experiences related to sexuality are often simplistic, judgmental.
Reason #5 – They wrestle with the exclusive nature of Christianity.
Reason #6 – The church feels unfriendly to those who doubt.", September 28, 2011

See the original article for further description of the reasons why young people leave the church.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Rick Santorum and the Selling of Hate and Fear


I will take it as point of favor in this series discussing Sean Faircloth's new atheist political strategy that it is showing itself relevant to current events.

Point 6 on Faircloth's strategy is that the secular and atheist communities need to reclaim moral language.

In my comments on that point, I argued that secular and atheist communities need to more effectively and emphatically counter the claim that without a god there is no foundation for morality.

(See: Atheist Ethicist Atheism and Lacking a Moral Foundation)

We treat this as if it is merely another false proposition. We ignore the fact that it is a false proposition with a purpose. It aims to socially promote or elevate one social group who hold it by selling hatred and fear of a target group.

We treat it like the false claim that the Earth is 6000 years old, when we should be treating it like the false claim that Jews are "Christ killers."

Republican Presidential Candidate Rick Santorum gave a speech on Wednesday in which he said the following:

They are taking faith and crushing it. Why? Why? When you marginalize faith in America, when you remove the pillar of God-given rights, then what’s left is the French Revolution. What’s left is the government that gives you right, what’s left are no unalienable rights, what’s left is a government that will tell you who you are, what you’ll do and when you’ll do it. What’s left in France became the guillotine. Ladies and gentlemen, we’re a long way from that, but if we do and follow the path of President Obama and his overt hostility to faith in America, then we are headed down that road.

(See: Santorum: Obama Putting America On ‘Path’ Of Executing Religious People)

There is no moral difference between standing in front of a crowd and giving this speech, then standing in front of a crowd and saying:

The Jews killed Jesus Christ. The murdered our savior. And if they could they would certainly murder your children as well. They will take your innocent children and murder them for their blood - so that they can use their blood in their religious services. We are a long ways from that now. However, if we follow our current path - if you do not hand the reigns of political power over to me - then we are headed down that road.

Both sets of claims are mistakes.

However, they are not mere mistakes. They are mistakes that serve a political and social function. They are mistakes that serve to promote one group by uniting them in fear and hatred if another.

Secularists and atheists have a habit of reacting to claims like those of Santorum as mere factual errors. They shake their heads and say, "Obviously he does not understand the philosophical points raised in Plato's Euthyphro argument, and he is perhaps unaware of the secular moral theories that have dominated the philosophical literature for the past 400 years."

This may be true.

It may be false. Santorum is an intelligent human being and I would actually be surprised to discover that he is not aware of these responses.

However, one of the things he definitely understands - perhaps as a conscious strategy, perhaps intuitively without much conscious thought - is the political power of hate. He understands the political effects of using hate and fear as a way of promoting himself and his political faction.

Santorum is a hate-monger. Buy my hate. Buy my hate and send your cash payments to Rick Santorum for President.

Like any good businessman, he sells his product to meet a current demand. There is more than enough survey and market data to show that there is a current demand to be met.

Also, like any good businessman, he seeks to grow that demand. He seeks to put his organization to work selling this hate to people who, at first, might be reluctant to buy - but also potentially willing to buy. Let us not pretend that the world consists solely of people who buy hate and those who never will. People are more varied than that.

The new atheist political strategy has to include an active campaign to fight this hate-mongering. Atheists have no more hope of having a political voice in a society sold on hatred of atheists have no moral foundation than Jews can expect in a society that embraces the charge of "Christ killer" and blood libel.

If it is to be challenged, this hate has to be recognized for what it is - and for what it is not. It is not just a mistake. It is a mistake with a social and political function - to politically and socially marginalize atheists while promoting the political and social standing of those who "have faith". It is an act of using hate and fear to obtain political and social goals.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Cardinal Edward Egan Just Withdrew His Apology for the Catholic Sex-Abuse Scandal - Michael Brendan Dougherty -

He also claimed that the Church had no obligation to report abuse to the civil authorities.

These are lies, strutting around with pride.

The Church is required to report abuse, according to laws on the books since the 1970s.

Bishop Egan ran a diocese that was notoriously dangerous for children. Contrary to his claim, during his twelve-year enthronement at Bridgeport, Egan repeatedly failed to investigate priests where there were obvious signs of abuse, according to The Hartford Courant. His diocese had to settle the cases and awarded victims some $12-15 million in damages.

Read on


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Reproductive Health Based on Science


In another context, I have argued that treating scripture as the last word in morality is as stupid as treating Hippocrates as the last word in medicine.

(See: Atheist Ethicist: Scripture as a Source of Moral Knowledge)

(Also Relevant: Atheist Ethicist: Faith Hospital.)

Imagine having our entire health network claim that there are no medical facts that have not appeared in the writings of Hippocrates, and nothing written in Hippocrates that is not a medical fact.

In fact, it is even more foolish to hold that the bible is the last word in morality.

Hippocrates at least was at least the model for medical knowledge in his age, and a wise and compassionate individual. Whereas scripture was not so much about morality as it was about securing the social and political power of priests and kings by securing the faithful, unreasoned, and unquestioning obedience of their subjects. They claim that the command is to obey God.

However, there is no God. There is only the person who claims to be able to tell you what God says. Consequently, what is presented as, "Obey God without question or justification or suffer the consequences in this world or the next," is, in practice, "Obey me or suffer the consequences."

When I assert that making scripture the last word in morality is worse than making Hippocrates the last word in medicine, I assume that readers will see that making Hippocrates the last word in medicine is a bad thing.

That may be optimistic.

What we get from scripture - in particular concerning matters of reproductive health - very much fits the description of taking the word of people far less intelligent than Hippocrates as the final word in medicine. We are, in fact, prescriptive primitive pre-historic remedies for our social ills.

Even the social and political elite, who shaped religion for their benefit, had some reason to prefer to be the elite in a healthy and well-ordered society unmarred by petty jealousies, than one that was riddled with disease and violence. Some of their "Obey me . . . ahem . . . I mean . . . obey God or suffer the consequences" commandments were actually geared to help them rule over a healthy and prosperous society. To do this, their commandments contained within it the medical facts and fictions of their age.

When we use these same prescriptions we are, in effect, declaring them to be the last and best words in matters of medicine, biology, and psychology - which is actually worse than declaring Hippocrates the last word in medicine.

Again, I am not claiming that these people were engaged in a conscious campaign to deceive people. It is more likely that they believed that their god or gods existed and wondered what qualities those beings had.

Naturally, they would start by assigning to those deities the qualities they wanted those deities to have. Their assignments faced no reality check in terms of truth so they could not be disproved. The only reality check they did face was whether their assertions would survive - which was a measure of their usefulness to the elite.

In this case, we not only get the virtue of blind obedience already mentioned, but other elements that help to secure power. There is good reason to view the demand that women be baby-making machines in such a society as a way to secure power.

The elite needs soldiers and servants, and societies were organized to fulfill that need. The more children, the more effectively they can be raised to be capable soldiers and servants for the elite, the better off the elite become. Therefore, god commands women to stay home and have children and to raise them according to scripture to become soldiers and servants of the elite, donating their time and labor as the elite dictate.

Limiting sexual partners limits the spread of disease and limits the petty jealousies that reduce the quality of the society over which the elites rule. It makes medical sense to command people to have few sexual partners - particularly in a primitive society that knows so little about medicine, biology, and psychology. It was not a stupid move.

Similarly, many of the remedies that Hippocrates prescribed were not foolish. They were wrong, but not foolishly wrong. They may have been the best remedies for that time, but it does not imply that we should not use our current knowledge to replace it with something better.

When we accept the absurdity that these prescriptions came from a perfectly wise and benevolent god, rather than from a social elite using the knowledge of their age to secure their position at the head of their own societies, we are actually claiming that the tribesmen of that age had both perfect virtue and perfect knowledge of medicine, biology, and psychology. We are accepting an absurdity, and we are basing social policy on that absurdity.

Where we know have a great deal of knowledge about the relationships between sexual behavior, brain structure, biology, and evolution, the primitive inventors of scripture did not even know that those relationships existed. I have been spending my time going over Sean Faircloth’s new atheist strategy. It includes ten policy objectives for the secular and atheist community. The second of those ten policy objectives is for reproductive information to be based on science – not on myth.

This means that when we go to discover what is known about the medical, biological, and psychological facts relevant to reproduction and reproductive health, we are not going to go to the ignorant tribesman who knew almost nothing about the world in which he lived. Instead, we are going to go to those who have libraries full of peer-reviewed literature that tells them what the facts are.

We are going to do this for the same reason that if we go to build a bridge or a communications satellite, we are not going to ask the primitive tribesmen who does not even have the capacity to read and write to determine the best way to go about it. We are going to ask the people who have stacks of material at their disposal telling them the facts of materials science, chemistry, and physics relevant to doing the job competently.

It is utterly foolish to consider an ancient Greek, no matter how gifted he was in his time, to be the last word ever on all matters of medicine. It is more foolish to go to an illiterate tribesman to have him design a complex bridge or communications satellite. And it is an extreme form of foolishness to go to ancient tribesmen who have been dead for a few thousand years as the last word in matters of reproductive health.

As Faircloth says, the new atheist political strategy should have, as one of its objectives, reproductive information based on science, not based on the superstitions of illiterate tribesmen who have been dead for a few thousand years.

Pope 'exorcised two men in the Vatican', claims new book - Nick Squires - The Telegraph

My Fight Against Satan", he claimed the mere presence of the pontiff cured the men of their demonic afflictions.

Father Amorth said his two female assistants escorted the two men into St Peter's Square as the Pope was driven between crowds of faithful in the white "Popemobile" jeep.

The women managed to obtain seats for the two men in an area of seating normally reserved for the disabled.

As the Pope approached them, the men, identified only as Marco and Giovanni, began to act strangely, Father Amorth wrote.

He described how they trembled and how their teeth chattered.

When one of the assistants asked Giovanni to control himself, he said "I am not Giovanni" in a voice that was not his own, Father Amorth claimed.

As soon as the Pope stepped down from the "Popemobile' the two men flung themselves to the floor.

"They banged their heads on the ground. The Swiss Guards watched them but did nothing," the priest wrote.

"Giovanni and Marco started to wail at the same time, they were lying on the floor, howling.

"They were trembling, slobbering, working themselves into a frenzy.

"The Pope watched from a distance. He raised an arm and blessed the four of them. For the possessed it was like a furious jolt - a blow to their whole bodies - to the extent that they were thrown three metres backwards," he continued.

Read on


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Contrary to his claim, during his twelve-year enthronement at Bridgeport, Egan repeatedly failed to investigate priests where there were obvious signs of abuse, according to The Hartford Courant. His diocese had to settle the cases and awarded victims some $12-15 million in damages.

Off The Record: A Quest For De-Baptism...

Eleanor Beardsley - NPR 58 Comments

"One can't be de-baptized," says Rev. Robert Kaslyn, dean of the School of Canon Law at the Catholic University of America.

Kaslyn says baptism changes one permanently before the church and God.

Europe's crisis of faith

Pope Benedict XVI - The Guardian 93 Comments

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Zebra stripes evolved to keep biting flies at bay - Victoria Gill - BBC Nature

," she explained. Unpolarised light waves travel along any and every plane, and are much less attractive to flies. As a result, white-coated horses are much less troubled by horseflies than their dark-coloured relatives.

Having discovered the flies' preference for dark coats, the team then became interested in zebras. They wanted to know what kind of light would bounce off the striped body of a zebra, and how this would affect the biting flies that are a horse's most irritating enemy.

Read on



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Censoring the Critics of Violent Idologies


I am interrupting my discussion of Sean Faircloth's new atheist political strategy.

Well, sort of.

I want to discuses something I read the other day. It has relevance to the series on political strategy, but it does break the flow of that series.

It concerns an article that announces that Google and Facebook are censoring material in India under penalty of law. A justification behind the law was given in the article as follows:

While civil rights groups have opposed the new laws, politicians say posting offensive images in a socially conservative country with a history of violence between religious groups presents a danger to the public.

(See The Guardian, Google and Facebook block content in India after court warns of crackdown)

I have read few things that are so utterly idiotic as this.

How about, "Religious groups with a history of violence present a danger to the public?"

You know . . . "history of violence" . . . "danger to the public" . . . They kinda go together.

Yet, (as if speaking to these “politicians”) you want to blame the peaceful victims.

Have you noticed, you are giving power to the advocates and practitioners of violence? That is NOT a safe move.

Seriously. In the name of peace, you intend to give the members of an admittedly violent ideology the power to dictate what people see, hear, and read? You intend to give them power over what people think?

And you expect them to use this power to promote a message of harmony, peace, and understanding?

We can already see how they plan on using this power. They plan to use it to ban all criticism of their violent ideology. They are using it to get the government to prohibit people from saying, ‘Maybe this violent ideology we have had around for hundreds of years isn’t such a good thing?”

"Do not criticize us. Do not dare say we are wrong. Do not contradict or condemn our violent ways and means - or we will kill innocent people. And we will blame you!"

They are going to use this power to grow their cult of violence.

And you have given them every incentive to do so.

Not only are you empowering the violent by attacking their victims and silencing their critics, you are empowering the violent because they are violent. That is what this excuse for these laws is saying. It is because the advocates and practitioners of violence are violent that you wish to give them power over what people say, see, read, hear, and think.

In doing so, you have announced that an eagerness to do violence is a shortcut to political and social power. Don't be surprised if they suddenly find a whole lot more things to get violently upset about. Don’t be surprised to discover that they are now going to start to get violently upset if the law does not favor them or their leaders in other ways – in economic contracts, in political appointments, in imposing their doctrine on others through legislation.

You have already said that you will grant political power and social advantage to those who threaten violence. Consequently, anybody who wants political power and social advantage now has an incentive to become an advocate and practitioner of the same sorts of violence.

At which point we can certainly count on you to tell us that it is not the fault of the advocates and practitioners of violence. Following the same logic used in the initial quote, I am certain you will announce that Condemning violence in a socially conservative country with a history of violence between religious groups presents a danger to the public. Or that Criticizing the social and political advantages given to the members of violent ideologies is a danger to the public. or Refusing total surrender to the advocates and practitioners of violence is a danger to the public.

THIS is your plan for peace? To give the practitioners of wonton violence everything they want - as if they and others will not see this as an incentive to threaten even more violence?

Are you insane?

If you want peace, do not empower the advocates and practitioners if violence. A better strategy would be to protect their victims, and empower their critics.

Of course, if you love violence, then go ahead. Continue to feed and reward violence and I am certain you will soon find yourself with an abundance of this crop you are so carefully harvesting.

The faithful must learn to respect those who question their beliefs - Lawrence Krauss - The Guardian

on a par with rapists. An earlier Gallup poll ranked atheists as the least popular hypothetical minority presidential candidates, and the group that people would most disapprove of their child marrying.

The researchers of the new paper concluded: "Outward displays of belief in God may be viewed as a proxy for trustworthiness

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Canadian imams issue fatwa against honor killings - Ron Csillag - The Washington Post

Soharwardy added.

Read on

See also here for an Opinion piece on the Fatwa.


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“Only a theory”??? - Jerry Coyne - Why Evolution Is True

(not her words, but an accurate characterization).  Murphy begins with a somewhat misguided definition of evolution:

The theory of evolution can be explained simply: Complex creatures evolved from simplistic creatures over time. All creatures come from a common ancestor. Over time, mutations in genetic codes were maintained as they aided in survival. This process of mutation is called natural selection. Eventually, these mutations build up until a complex creature is the result.

Leaving aside the hilarious misuse of the word

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Reason Rally - March 24, 2012 - Seth Andrews - YouTube - TheThinkingAtheist

Richard Dawkins at the Jaipur
Literature Festival

Globally renowned authors enthrall...

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Tuesday, February 7, 2012

LA Black Atheist Group Calls For ‘Day Of Solidarity’ In February - - - CBS - Los Angeles

is part of an ad campaign by African Americans For Humanism (AAH) planned in Los Angeles and five other major U.S. cities targeting African-Americans who have privately or openly questioned their faith.

The ads are already fueling controversy in Dallas as the campaign made its debut Monday with a billboard reading,

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A Proclamation - Darwin Week - Mayor, City of Kamloops BC - Kamloops BC, Canada

Rock Beyond Belief - Saturday March 31st - Main Post Parade Field, Fort Bragg, NC

Please note that a valid photo ID is needed to get on post.

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Calls to Behead Indonesian Atheist Alexander Aan - Presi Mandari - Jakarta Globe

Diwirja added, advising Aan to escape persecution by seeking asylum in a European country.

Aan has also gained the support of the US-based International Atheist Alliance.

The group, together with Atheist Minang, has written to President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, calling on him to ensure that the blasphemy allegations are dropped.

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Visions of Angels Described in Bible May Have Been Lucid Dreams

"Sleep researchers say they have established that many of the visions of angels and other religious encounters described in the Bible were likely "the products of spontaneous lucid dreams."

In a sleep study by the Out-Of-Body Experience Research Center in Los Angeles, 30 volunteers were instructed to perform a series of mental steps upon waking up or becoming lucid during the night that might lead them to have out-of-body experiences culminating in perceived encounters with an angel. Half of them succeeded, the researchers said.


Raduga, whose organization is partly funded by sales of his "practical guide" books on lucid dreaming, designed the experiment to test his theory that many reports of miraculous encounters are actually instances of people experiencing this vibrant, lifelike dream state. If he could coach people to dream a realistic religious encounter, he said, that could prove that many historical accounts of such encounters — such as Elijah's vision in the Bible — are really just products of people's imaginations.", 21 December 2011

Religious Reasons and Military Justifications

If you are in the US military today, one of your jobs is to help restore Israel to its borders as described in the Bible - in order to bring about (or because success will be evidence that the time is near for) the second coming of Christ.

This is not to say that this is an explicit part of our national foreign policy - which the military is charged with helping to enforce. It would be more accurate to say that this is in the back of the national mind in designing that policy. Those policies that have been made explicit have all been examined under the light of its effects on making it more likely or less likely that Israel will return to its original borders. This concern gets weighed against other matters - such as peace and justice - and can sometimes outweigh those other "secular" concerns.

A part of the reason why Israel can get away with some of the things it gets away with is because of the political influence of this religious faction that holds peace and justice to sometimes subordinate to religious prophesy.

However, let's not deny that this policy of "killing and injustice in the name of a god" is one-sided. On the other side, we also have a "killing and injustice in the name of a god" on the other side.

Unfortunately, when you have two groups of people, each of whom think their god grants them permission to do violence to the other, there is no hope for peace or justice.

This is why wise and civilized societies adopt the principle that religion is a poor reason to do violence. Either they re-interpret their religion as one that condemns such violence, or they abandon that religion. If they do not choose one of these two options, they are condemned to live in a society of violence, poverty, disease, with its resulting death and suffering.

Another way to state this, in a way that is relevant to this series of posts, is that religions reasons shall not color our military decisions at home or abroad. We will not condone, let alone commit, violence and injustice in the name of any god. Each person has a liberty to engage in their own religious practices, up to the point where that practice makes them advocates of violence against others.

I have been spending my time recently looking at Sean Faircloth's new political strategy for atheists. Specifically, I have just started looking at his first policy objective:

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 am proposing a slight modification - a stricter rule than Faircloth provides. It calls for "no hint of religious rationalization coloring our military decisions at home or abroad". This principle translates into a prohibition that says that our soldiers do not kill in the name of any god."

Last week I wrote about the first part if this policy objective. I argued that it is absurd to "include all Americans" and that some standards are needed to determine who is acceptable and who is unacceptable. In place of Faircloth's policy above, I suggested that all people are to be accepted for inclusion unless good reason can be provided to the contrary. Religion does not provide a good reason to the contrary. They do not justify blacklisting any person or group. In the absence of religious reasons, there is no justification for blacklisting atheists or gays - which is why they should be included.

In this post, I am looking at the second half of this policy. I am claiming that, in the same way that religion provides a poor reason for blacklisting any person or group, it provides a poor foundation for military decisions. The separation of church and state finds its greatest value in the call for the separation of religion and violence it implies. Killing in the name of a god is prohibited.

Imagine two groups, squabbling over some piece of land because "God gave it to us. It is ours by right."

God did not give that land to anybody. What has happened is that some tribe liked the idea of taking some plot of land from some other tribe. In order to neutralize any guilt they may feel over the fact they are about to become murderers and thieves they assure themselves that their god said it was okay. They will likely pray and perform some religious rituals, after which they will come to the surprising (not!) conclusion, "God says we can have that land." Then the stealing and murdering can commence without all that guilt and shame getting in the way.

You have heard it said that religion is the source of morality. Yet, it is all too common to find people rationalize immorality by saying, "God gave us permission. In fact, He insisted!" The very fact that god is an invention makes this easy.

It is no different than a young child asking imaginary parents if he can stay up late or have cookies for supper. Imaginary authority figures are as strict or as lenient as those who do the imagining want them to be. Usually, these imaginary authority figures are very lenient towards the one doing the asking, but gives the asker all sorts of rules and commandments to impose on others. Typically, the person talking to god will discover that god wants others to obey him (without question and without reason - as a matter of faith) - again, not surprisingly.

There is no defense against this "god said I could" argument. Anybody can assign to their god any attitudes they want their god to have. Nobody can prove that god did or did not say what the speaker said. There is no evidence available to determine the attitudes and actions of an imaginary being.

Try to demonstrate that I have not talked to god and learned that god has granted me and my followers all of the islands of the Hawaii chain, and granted us permission to use all means necessary to acquire that which is our god given us. You have no proof against it. The only tool you have are the instruments of violence - the military and courts - to use against me and my followers.

Do you want peace? Then you agree to the principle that religious reasons are not to be taken as justification for violence and injustice. Religious reasons will not color our military decisions at home or abroad. Those who do not accept this principle - are those who favor killing and injustice in the name of some god. Those prone to kill, maim, and inflict harms in the name of some god are a threat to the public.

Dawkins made it to my Sociology class - Omer Kamal Bin Farooq - The Express Tribune (Pakistan)

and Ahmadi students are shunned out of school for their beliefs.

So, showing a Richard Dawkins documentary which ascribes religion as the root cause of all evil is simply overwhelming. Now, whether one agrees with what Mr Dawkins believes (or rather disbelieves) is an entirely different debate. But for a Pakistani teacher to be able to show his class something this controversial is a gigantic step in itself.

We all have different views on religion and most don’t agree with Dawkins. But what’s worth noticing is not that students were shown something that was sacrilegious, it is something else. It is not about Dawkins at all.

This is about the freedom and tolerance that our society and educational system has lost or rather, never had. It’s about people being empowered to ask questions about centuries old religious and cultural dogmas and to challenge the relevance of medieval practices in the 21st century.

This is where that documentary comes in. It allows us to think out of the comfortable narrative that has been concocted for us by the state and its right-wing allies. Watching it allows us to digest opinions wildly diverse from ours and still give them their due consideration and appreciation. This is what made me happy.

Read on


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Monday, February 6, 2012

In the West, religious nations are more sexist

"First of all, let's look at the correlation with a straightforward measure of whether women can be leaders, which was assessed by asking the level of agreement with two questions: “On the whole, men make better political leaders than women do” and “On the whole, men make better business executives than women do.”

Overall, there's a fairly good correlation. But there is an exception, and that's Asian countries.  There are only a few Asian countries in the sample, so it's hard to draw sweeping conclusions. But they are all very sexist, whether their citizens are religious (Thailand, Taiwan) or non-religious (China, Hong Kong, Japan)

So I took these countries out of the analysis - in fact, what's shown in the graphic is only those countries with a predominantly Western, Christian culture (i.e. North and South America, Europe, and Australia).

In these Westernised countries there's a strong, linear relationship between religion and sexism.

In fact, if you narrow the sample a bit more to look only at European countries the fit is even cleaner (I haven't shown this, but it's a remarkably straight line).", Tom Rees, November 11, 2011

Religion vs. sexism

The Reason Rally - March 24, 2012 - Seth - YouTube - TheThinkingAtheist

Richard Dawkins at the Jaipur
Literature Festival

Globally renowned authors enthrall...

Santanu Ganguly - India Education... 4 Comments

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Atheism in America - Julian Baggini -

We had met in a private room because Johnson worried that anywhere else in the town, people might overhear us and be offended by her godlessness. No wonder she often feels alone in her non-belief. But Johnson is far from unique. As I found out when I travelled across the US last year, atheists live in isolation and secrecy all over the country. In a nation that celebrates freedom of religion like no other, freedom not to be religious at all can be as hard to exercise as the right to swim the Atlantic.

America is the well-known exception to the rule that the wealthier and better-educated a country is, the less religious its population. As a Pew Research Center report put it, when it comes to religiosity,

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Freedom of Religion and The Secular State - Russell Blackford - Embiggen Books - Melbourne Australia

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

Wednesday Religion: Morals in a Time of...

- - ABC Radio National (Australia) 22 Comments

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Sunday, February 5, 2012

Conservative religious beliefs strongly predict U.S. teen birth rates

"Some religions insist on the sexual abstinence before marriage. Isn’t it ironic that the journal Reproductive Health reports a correlation showing that the more religious the state, the higher the rates of teenage pregnancy?, Bernard Starr, Jan 8, 2012

Here's from the report by Reproductive Health:

With data aggregated at the state level, conservative religious beliefs strongly predict  U.S. teen birth rates, in a relationship that does not appear to be the result of  confounding by income or abortion rates. One possible explanation for this  relationship is that teens in more religious communities may be less likely to use  contraception. "

Religiosity and teen birth rate in the United States, Joseph M. Strayhorn and Jillian C. Strayhorn

See full report here.

Teen birth rate by religiosity

Simply being near a church makes people more hostile to outsiders

"In a recent study, Jordan LaBouff (University of Maine) worked with colleagues at Baylor College to discover whether attitudes to different groups are affected by subliminal Christian priming.


So what effect does religious priming have on ordinary people? To test this, LaBouff stopped people at random outside a church in the Netherlands (and, to check if the effect was culturally specific, a few people outside Westminster Abbey in London). He asked them a series of questions, including asking them to rate their attitudes to different groups on a 1-10 scale.

He also stopped some other people in a location that contained only civic buildings (in England, the location chosen was the Houses of Parliament).


But, as you can see from the graph, attitudes towards every single group were more hostile when people were asked outside a church. All the differences are statistically significant (except the difference in attitudes towards Christians).", Tom Rees, Saturday, February 04

Attitudes towards different groups vary depending on where you ask the question.

Kids are less likely to come with supernatural explanations than adults

"It's pretty much taken as an assumption these days that human beings are 'natural-born believers'. Ask a cognitive scientist who specializes in religion, and they will tell you that our brains are predisposed to all sorts of supernatural concepts.


And when independent researchers outside the core groups test the hypothesis, they often get results that don't fit the story. That's the case with a new study by Jacqui Woolley, a psychologist at the University of Texas.

She and her colleagues read some short tales to a bunch of kids (67 in total) aged 8, 10 or 12, and also 22 adults. All the stories illustrated a 'difficult to explain' event.


So they read these stories and then asked the listener how the event could be explained. The surprising thing was that the kids hardly ever offered up supernatural explanations.


Adults, on the other hand, readily offered up supernatural explanations. There was a clear trend, too, as you can see in the graph - the older the child, the more likely they were to explain these strange happenings by recourse to the supernatural, Tom Rees, October 04, 2011

Kids are less likely to come with supernatural explanations than adults

Religious people are less likely to take their medicine

"Sarah Finocchario-Kessler, at the University of Kansas, used data from one such drug trial to see what the effect of religious beliefs (and other psychological factors) was on medication taking.

She found that people who put themselves in God's hands really were less likely to take their medicine.

To be precise, people who used a passive religious deferral coping style (e.g. "I don’t try much of anything; simply expect God to take control") were less likely to take their medicine as often as they were supposed to.  On the other hand,  collaborative religious coping "I work together with God as partners" or self-directing religious coping (e.g., "I make decisions about what to do without God’s help" had no effect on whether people took their medicines.

The biggest effect was with those people who scored high on the "God as locus of health control" measure - that means people who agreed with statements like "Whether or not my HIV disease improves is up to God." ", Tom Rees,  March 02, 2011

Elephants Took 24 Million Generations to Evolve From Mouse-Size - Ker Than - National Geographic News

and found that, for mammals, getting big takes longer than shrinking.

It takes a minimum of 1.6 million generations for mammals to achieve a hundredfold increase in body size, about 5 million generations for a thousandfold increase, and about 10 million generations for a 5,000-fold increase, the team discovered.

For land mammals, odd-toed ungulates

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Did Early Humans Ride the Waves to Australia? - Matt Ridley - The Wall Street Journal

but there is also disagreement about when the exodus began. For a long time, scientists had assumed a gradual expansion of African people through Sinai into both Europe and Asia. Then, bizarrely, it became clear from both genetics and archaeology that Europe was peopled later (after 40,000 years ago) than Australia (before 50,000 years ago).

Meanwhile, the geneticists were beginning to insist that many Africans and all non-Africans shared closely related DNA sequences that originated only after about 70,000-60,000 years ago in Africa. So a new idea was born, sometimes called the "beachcomber express," in which the first ex-Africans were seashore dwellers who spread rapidly around the coast of the Indian Ocean, showing an unexpected skill at seafaring to reach Australia across a strait that was at least 40 miles wide. The fact that the long-isolated Andaman islanders have genes that diverged from other Asians about 60,000 years ago fits this notion of sudden seaside peopling.

Sea levels were 150 feet lower then, because the cold had locked up so much moisture in northern ice-caps, so not only were most Indonesian islands linked by land, but the Persian Gulf was dry and, crucially, the southern end of the Red Sea was a narrow strait. Recent work by Prof. Geoffrey Bailey and colleagues from York University in Britain has shown that the gap was often less than 2

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Improbable evolution: how life beats the odds - John Rennie - SmartPlanet

If there is one thing the history ofevolution has taught us, it’s thatlife will not be contained. Lifebreaks free, expands to newterritories, and crashes throughbarriers, painfully, maybe evendangerously, but, ah, well, there itis.

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