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)


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)


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)

MOVIES
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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