April 17, 2015

spiritual-childChildren, Spirituality, and Happiness
Lisa Miller: A new study just published online in the Journal of Religion and Health by my lab at Columbia University shows that happiness and the character traits of grit and persistence go “hand in hand” with a deeper inner asset: spirituality, which this study measured as a deep spiritual connection with a sense of a sacred world. More generally my research of more than 20 years on adolescence, depression and spirituality shows more specifically how putting a priority on performance stunts development of a child’s inner life and the single most powerful protection against depression and suffering, the spiritual self. (TIME)

Vatican Climate Change Workshop
Called “Protect the Earth, Dignify Humanity,” the event will feature scientists and world religious leaders, aiming to build a global movement toward curbing climate change, according to the online program. Speakers will have “a special focus on the most vulnerable, to elevate the moral dimensions of protecting the environment in advance of the papal encyclical,” according to the program. (Rachel Zoll, Associated Press)

The Future of World Religions
The religious profile of the world is rapidly changing, driven primarily by differences in fertility rates and the size of youth populations among the world’s major religions, as well as by people switching faiths. Over the next four decades, Christians will remain the largest religious group, but Islam will grow faster than any other major religion. (Pew Research Center Religion & Public Life)

April 16, 2015

cathedral-science-religionDo Americans Believe Science and Religion Are in Conflict?
Jonathan Hill: There is more than meets the eye in survey questions about the relationship between science and religion. Although the results appear to have a straightforward reading at first, we need to recognize that changes in the wording and framing of these questions are tapping into different conceptions of science, religion, and the boundaries between the two. Social scientists would do well to move beyond simplistic survey questions and begin to investigate public conceptions of the boundaries and content of religion and science more intentionally. (Big Questions Online)

Are Scientific and Religious Explanations Incompatible?
Tania Lombrozo: For starters, I think we need to be clear about whether we’re talking about scientific and religious explanations per se, or about explanatory practices in science and religion. (13.7: Cosmos and Culture, NPR)

Analyzing Religious Metaphors in the Climate Change Debate
Dimitrinka Atanasova and Nelya Koteyko: These were chiefly used to describe climate scientists, diverting the focus on to the people rather than the analyses they carried out. The use of “conversion” and “recanting” to describe a transition from believing in climate change to being skeptical are what linguists call novel metaphors—regarded as especially persuasive because they are new to the reader. (New Scientist)

Time Off

We apologize for the break (due to travel and other commitments), but plan to be back soon.
You can always follow us on Twitter (@scireltoday), where we’ll continue to share news and stories from around the Web.

Thanks for reading SRT.

January 21, 2015

sotuScience in the State of the Union
President Barack Obama reiterated his commitment to addressing global warming in his annual address to Congress on January 20, describing the perils of rising temperatures as the greatest threat facing future generations. (Jeff Tollefson and Sara Reardon, Nature)

On Gender and Religious Belief
A big gender divide exists between men and women in their 40s in belief in God and life after death, a poll suggests. Of the British men surveyed, 54 percent said they were atheists or agnostics compared with only 34 percent of women. The study also showed that Muslims in the survey had the fewest doubts about the existence of God and the afterlife. The research involving more than 9,000 British people born in 1970 was analyzed at the University of Essex. (BBC News UK)

What If Heaven Is Not For Real?
Adam Frank: For many folks, what’s most terrifying about death is the ending of their own being. Each of us is, naturally, at the center of a remarkably vivid life. We’re center stage in our own dramas of love and hardship, victory and defeat. The idea that it could just end, that we could just end, evokes nothing short of horror for many people. As Woody Allen famously put it: “Life is full of misery, loneliness, and suffering—and it’s all over much too soon.” But this kind of existential terror never made a lot of sense to me. (13.7: Cosmos and Culture, NPR)

The Edge’s Annual Question
What do you think about machines that think? (Edge)

Ex Machina

The best science fiction often tackles the oldest questions. At the heart of Ex Machina is one of our toughest intellectual knots, that of artificial consciousness. Is it possible to build a machine that is not only intelligent but also sentient: that has consciousness, not only of the world but also of its own self? Can we construct a modern-day Golem, that lumpen being of Jewish folklore which is shaped from unformed matter and can both serve humankind and turn against it in certain conditions? And if we could, what would happen to us? (Anil Seth, New Scientist)

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Expert Opinion

From Gregory Paul, an independent paleontologist and researcher who examines the relationship between religion and society:

In recent years, there has been lots of discussion and debate about whether atheism or theism is on the rise around the world. A good deal of the answer can be found in results from the International Social Survey Program. In its Religion II survey conducted in 1998 and Religion III survey sampled in 2008 and just released (why the ISSP is so tardy in releasing its results is obscure), the ISSP asked the same set of questions in 28 countries, allowing assessment of gross longitudinal trends over a decade (because their Religion 1 poll in 1991 asked different questions in far fewer countries, it is not very longitudinally useful).

% Don’t believe in God % Theists overall % No doubt God exists
1998           2008 1998          2008 1998           2008
Great Britain 9.6              17.7 46.2           36 22.5            16.8
Austria 6.8              9.3 51.3           40.8 32.4            20.8
Netherlands 17.2            19.8 44.2           36.7 26.4            21.1
Australia 10.2            15.6 52.2           43.5 28.6            25.1
Norway 11.7            17.7 42.5           37 18.4            15
Ireland 2.4              4 77.3           67.5 49.8            45.1
New Zealand 7.9              12.5 52.9           46.4 30.9            28.2
Spain 8.6              9.7 64.7           59.5 45.8            39.2
Italy 4.1              5.3 73.5           69.5 48               42.9
Sweden 16.8            19.5 25.8           24.9 12.3            10.3
France 19.1            21.9 38.8           37.3 20.1            17.5
Denmark 14.7            18.4 34              33.4 13.6            13.4
United States 3.2              2.8 77.5           78.2 62.8            61.3
Switzerland 4.3              8.5 44.5           45.1 28.3            28.8
Germany west 12.1            10.5 41.3           48.1 23.4            27.2
Germany east 54               53 15.7           16.5 9.4              8
Japan 10.6            8.7 13.2           16.4 4                 4.4
Northern Ireland 3.7              6.8 74.4           67.4 50               45.2
Portugal 1.9              4 84.8           72.9 60               54.4
Czech Republic 20.3            37.3 30.4           23.9 17.1            23.9
Hungary 12.8            15.3 51.6           42.4 31.1            23.2
Latvia 9.2              18.3 38.9           36.9 22.9            21.7
Poland 2.4              3.3 81             76.4 70.5            62.9
Russia 19.7            6.1 40.2           58.2 23.8            33.9
Slovakia 11.1            10.4 56.7           59.8 40.8            41.6
Slovenia 14.2            13.6 39.4           40.7 22.9            24.2
Chile 1.5              1.7 91.4           90.5 81.4            82.3
Cyprus 1.6              1.9 84.8           70.2 65               59
Philippines 0.7              0.8 82.3           92.5 79               82.7

(Note: Bold lines indicate an increase in atheism. First World countries are ordered starting with largest decrease in overall theists and progressing downward.)

A complaint I have about the new ISSP survey is that it failed to requery on opinion on the Bible in a large number of countries, including the United States (!), leaving us unable to reaffirm the Gallup record of a strong long-term decline in American biblical literalism. Nor did it repeat the question on regular attendance at religious services, another serious loss of longitudinal sampling that will hopefully be corrected in 2018.

Because there are only two samples, at each end of the 10 years, the trends for a given country must be taken with a dose of demographic salt, especially when the difference is not statistically significant. Even what looks like a major shift in a particular nation may be a statistical fluke. If there were no general overall pattern apparent, there would be little change to report.
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Is Atheism Increasing at the Expense of Theism?

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