Category Psychology

Atheists turn to science during times of stress

The New Scientist reports:

It’s well known that religious faith can help believers cope with stress and anxiety, by providing them with a sense of meaning and control at times of uncertainty. It now seems that a “belief” in science and a rationalistic outlook might do the same for the non-religious.

A team of psychologists led by Miguel Farias at the University of Oxford asked 52 rowers to fill in a “belief in science” questionnaire just before taking part in a competitive regatta. They gave the same test – in which participants had to score statements such as “science is the most valuable part of human culture” – to a similar number of rowers at a training session. The questionnaire also assessed self-reported stress levels and degree of religious belief.

Political Libertarianism, Science Denialism, Philosophy and the likes of James Delingpole

I am going to look at political libertarianism in this post in the context of morality, ethics and philosophy. This has been brought on by the Any Questions live radio programme on BBC Radio 4 the other day from the Centre for Alternative Technology in Machynlleth, Wales which featured right-wing Conservative, Telegraph blogger, Climate Change (AGW) denier James Delingpole, Secretary of State for the Environment Food and Rural Affairs, Owen Paterson MP (Conservative), left wing Labour politician Peter Hain MP, Leader of Plaid Cymru (The Welsh national party), socialist and republican Leanne Wood.

Islamic ‘inspired’ stabbing; government approves 25 faith schools; exclusivist policies abound

So a British soldier was stabbed to death in public, the atrocity being caught and shared on social media. They stayed around to be arrested, not afraid of the consequences, and this is the scary thing. Now there is a widespread Muslim backlash. To make matters worse, the government has admitted that “thousands are at risk of radicalisation” in the UK.

So what do we do to unite society? What do we do to make it more inclusive and less exclusive? How do we break the in-group / out-group psychology which fuels the fires of societal discontent and fear? How to we pull down the walls of separation of ‘us’ and ‘them’?

The problem with when you are born – age standardisation

I researched about this for my first book, Free Will? As a teacher I am acutely aware of this, but it seems like nothing is ever done. However, the stats have consistently supported the fact that there is a problem with achievement and self-confidence. Let me explain.

In the Uk, for example, children start school at aged 5. The cut-off date is September 1st. This means that a child can be born on September 1st and be in the same school year as someone born on August 30th LATER that same year. In other words, one child can be 60 months old, and another effectively 48 months old when they start school.

Muslims, Christians and No True Scotsmen

The No True Scotsman fallacy is a well-used fallacy in debates about religion with religionists. As wiki defines:

No true Scotsman is an informal fallacy, an ad hoc attempt to retain an unreasoned assertion.[1] When faced with a counterexample to a universal claim, rather than denying the counterexample or rejecting the original universal claim, this fallacy modifies the subject of the assertion to exclude the specific case or others like it by rhetoric, without reference to any specific objective rule.

A Tippling Philosopher Interviews Dr Caleb Lack

So Dr Caleb Lack, a fellow SINner, and I had a chat a few weeks back. It is due to go out as a Skepticule Extra podcast, but since there have been a few delays, I am putting it out here first. It was a really enjoyable chat / interview, covering cognitive biases, atheism and god. We had a great time and hopefully there will be a second part, or Caleb interviewing me. Any excuse for a chinwag.

Intelligence and Religiosity Explored

My fellow SINner, blogger and clinical psychologist, Dr Caleb Lack of the Great Plains Skeptic blog has been producing a series analysing data and theories concerning correlations between intelligence and religiosity in people. There have been a number of studies, and many people have highlighted and lauded these studies. But the nature of psychological studies is that one has to analyse them very closely in order to decipher when control measures have been carefully put in place, and where researchers have mitigated against issues of, say, self-selection.

New Studies Link Gene to Selfish Behavior in Kids, Find Other Children Natural Givers

Can’t believe I missed this one. Interesting, and something I will bring up in my talk tonight on free will at Southampton University to the Atheist Society. Research into prosocial (kind) behaviour is always interesting, and something I have documented here, here and here. there is a mix of genetic and environmental influences with this one. It seems that talking to children about giving, about kindness, is more important than role-modeling when measuring children’s kindness. Of course, children who do not have these environmental influences will be at a disadvantage to others who have, and these are variables outside of their control.

Mentalizing Deficits Constrain Belief in a Personal God – why it is unfair that autistic people, men and scientists are less likely to believe in God

Here are some extracts from a fascinating paper – “Mentalizing Deficits Constrain Belief in a Personal God” by Ara Norenzayan, Will M. Gervais and Kali H. Trzesniewski. Gervais is certainly a name which keeps popping up in conversations about the cognitive functioning of people with regards to their beliefs and so on.

The basic conclusion to be made form this work is that people on the autistic spectrum (think particularly Asperger’s Syndrome) have, due to their cognitive functioning, a much higher disposition not to believe in a personal God. The is largely due, it appears, to a lack of empathy. Empathy seems to underscore our beliefs in a personal God. This can be seen in believers needing to put themselves ‘in God’s shoes’, so to speak. In other words, in all your words and deeds as a believer, what would God think of you? This intersubjectivity, placing yourself out of your body and imagining ‘you’ from another point of view, is something that particular groups of autistic people struggle with. And this, it seems, is why they have less propensity to believe.

Paedophilia and Cognitive Dissonance

In the UK at the moment there is a scandal rocking the entertainment and broadcasting industry. It actually started several years back when glam rock star Gary Glitter was found with child pornography in the 90s and was found guilty in Vietnam in 2006 for obscene acts with minors.

Science denialism at a skeptic conference – shame!

Rebecca Watson, a speaker at skeptical conference and events, and someone who has courted controversy before (I think she was involved in the Elevatorgate issue, though I know almost nothing about it since it holds little interest to me)., has taken it upon herself at the recent Skepticon conference to diss Evolutionary Psychology (EP). I use the term diss, because that’s about the sum of it. There seemed to be no real desire to interact with the required academia or methodology involved in critiquing scientific findings. This is sad coming from the source and the event that it did.

Why do normal people believe ridiculous things?

Why, indeed, do normal people believe ridiculous things? We have heard much from John Loftus about the OTF – the Outsider Test for Faith – which essentially illustrates that religion is a (geographical) accident of birth. It claims that if believers used the same critical powers they use to assess, and dismiss, other religions and their claims, then they are obliged to turn those critical faculties on their own. If they did, John would claim, then they would surely end up dismissing the claims of their own religion (this is a simplistic view of the OTF, no doubt).

What is interesting to me here is not so much the fact that people do special plead their own religion in this way (though that is incredibly interesting and important in itself), but how this comes about. I will put forward a theory which is fairly well accepted anecdotally, and see what you think. I will use an example which I experienced the other night which should show the theory with clarity