May 14, 2015

America’s Changing Religious LandscapeAmerica’s Changing Religious Landscape
The Christian share of the U.S. population is declining, while the number of U.S. adults who do not identify with any organized religion is growing, according to an extensive new survey by the Pew Research Center. Moreover, these changes are taking place across the religious landscape, affecting all regions of the country and many demographic groups. (Pew Research Center)

How Might Feeling Invisible Affect Our Moral Thinking?
Arvid Guterstam: I personally don’t think invisibility will affect our moral nature. But it’s an open question that we now can test by using this illusion, and I’m excited to see the results. (SABQ)

New Dimensions in Testimony Project
The project’s first subject was Pinchas Gutter, a Holocaust survivor, who was asked to tell his story, then was asked hundreds of follow-up questions. A computer cataloged and analyzed his responses, and when the story is complete, viewers can simply ask their own questions and a suitable answer will be selected and played back by the lifelike hologram. This allows not just for stories to be experienced as if the teller is physically there, complete with gestures and expressions, but also for those hearing it to further investigate in a natural way. (Devin Coldewey, TODAY)


April 28, 2015

James St John, CC BYEven Setting Evolution Aside, Basic Geology Disproves Creationism
David Montgomery: In the ongoing conflict between science and creationism, evolution is usually a main point of contention. The idea that all life on Earth evolved from a common ancestor is a major problem for creationists. As a geologist, though, I think that the rocks beneath our feet offer even better arguments against creationism. For the creationist model doesn’t square with what you can see for yourself. And this has been known since before Darwin wrote a word about evolution. (The Conversation)

Ethical Debate Over Editing the Genomes of Human Embryos
In the wake of the first ever report that scientists have edited the genomes of human embryos, experts cannot agree on whether the work was ethical. (Sara Reardon, Nature)

More on the Conflict Over Observatories at Mauna Kea
In Hawaii, a battle is going on over the future of a mountaintop. Native Hawaiians say it’s sacred ground, while astronomers say it’s the best place in the world to build a massive, 18-story telescope. This is not simply a story of religion versus science. Activists consider the construction of a giant telescope on the island of Hawaii to be a desecration of their sacred land. (Molly Solomon, Morning Edition, NPR)

New Reality Show Will Look at Generosity and Values
If somebody gave you $100,000, would you keep all the money for yourself, or share it with another needy family? That’s the setup for The Briefcase, a new reality show coming to CBS. And if you think that premise is tricky, wait until you hear the twist. “We’re testing the human spirit,” says executive producer Dave Broome (NBC’s The Biggest Loser). “These days, with paychecks shrinking, we wanted to tackle human values in a way in a big and loud way.” (James Hibberd, Entertainment Weekly)

Q&A
Frederic Lenoir

Frederic Lenoir’s Happiness: A Philosopher’s Guide was a best seller when it was released in France last fall, and this month, it’s been published here, in English, courtesy of Melville House. Lenoir, a magazine editor, France Culture radio host, and professor at the elite L’École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, spoke on the phone from Paris about American culture’s contentment problem, happiness science, and The Bachelor. (David Marchese, Science of Us, New York Magazine)


Lessons from the Perceptions Conference

From Matthew Facciani, a doctoral candidate in experimental psychology at the University of South Carolina:

I recently attended The Perceptions Conference, which brought scientists and religious leaders together to improve dialogue and find common ground. Here are five things I took away from this conference that may be useful for finding common ground between science and religious communities.

1. Removing perceptions
Removing perceptions and stereotypes are vital for establishing common ground. For example, scientists may believe that religious people are not interested in science, but studies have shown that this is not the case. Likewise, believers may assume scientists are trying to take away their faith, but scientists are merely truth seekers and few are hostile toward religion.

2. Listen
Active listening is necessary in order to break down those harmful stereotypes and perceptions. We should be careful to listen to the kinds of experiences people have with science and religion. This will help us understand where they are coming from and avoid jumping to conclusions and perpetuating stereotypes.

3. Understand both science and religion have limitations
Science is simply a method for understanding our natural world. It has many limitations and is constantly correcting previous mistakes. While science can give us amazing technologies and improve medicine, it cannot answer the philosophical questions reserved for religion. Importantly, religion is not some monolithic philosophy, as religious scholars are constantly disagreeing on the interpretation of scripture. Understanding the limitations of both science and religion will be important for productive dialogue.

4. Show humility
Human beings have limitations just like science and religion do. We all have biases and all can be incorrect. It’s important to acknowledge that none of us have all the answers and that we can learn from one another. Neither a religious scholar nor scientist should assume they have nothing to learn from the other. Acknowledging our ignorance in certain areas will allow us to be open minded and greatly improve civil discourse.

5. Work toward a common goal
As Pastor David Anderson says, distance allows for demonization as it’s hard to hate up close. It would be ideal for science and religious communities to work together on issues where they share interest. For example, science and religious communities share an interest in taking care of our environment so that is one place where they could work together.

As people get to know each other, stereotypes are broken and great progress can be made. I’m an atheist and a scientist myself, but I regularly work with Christians during my activism work, so I know firsthand that such relationships are possible.

Learn more about Matthew Facciani➞


April 22, 2015

religiousness and mental healthReligiousness and Mental Health
Is being a believer beneficial to one’s mental health? That’s the conclusion of much psychological research, which points to both the social support of belonging to a congregation, and the stress-reducing qualities of knowing that a larger force is looking out for you. But a newly published study challenges those beliefs. Analyzing answers provided by a large and diverse group of participants, it finds “secular and religious adherents have similar levels of mental health.” (Tom Jacobs, Pacific Standard)

Why I Teach Evolution to Muslim Students
Rana Dajani: I teach evolution to university students in Jordan. Almost all of them are hostile to the idea at first. Their schoolteachers are likely to have ignored or glossed over it. Still, most students are willing to discuss evolution, and by the end of the course, the majority accept the idea. If Muslim students can challenge ideas on such a controversial academic topic, then they can also approach other aspects of their lives by questioning—and not just blindly accepting—the status quo. These tools and attitudes are crucial to the development of their personalities and to becoming responsible citizens. (Nature)

Creationism in Louisiana Public School Science Classes
Zack Kopplin: I have evidence that religion, not science, is what’s being taught systematically in some Louisiana school systems. I have obtained emails from creationist teachers and school administrators, as well as a letter signed by more than 20 current and former Louisiana science teachers in Ouachita Parish in which they say they challenge evolution in the classroom without legal “tension or fear” because of pro-creationism policies. (Slate)

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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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