Monday, January 28, 2008

How alternative are youths and grown-ups?

I earlier posted a PDF with some interesting international statistics in my Norwegian blog, but the charts are easy to grasp and there's a brief explanation in English under each chart too:

First of all, the PDF is a combination of two studies: 1. ROSE (The relevance of science education) (International, 15 yearolds) og 2. The Eurobarometer. (Europe, grown-ups). You'll most likely find the information elsewhere in English if you need it, but the charts can be enlightening.
Read more about ROSE here in English.

I'll breiefly explain what the charts shows
Part 1. Rose (15 yearolds, international)

Page 8: Mean H28. taken herbal medicines or had, alternative treatments (acupuncture, homeopathy, yoga, healing, etc.)
A little difference between genders, but Northern Europe are the least interested and Africa the most.

Page 9: Mean C12. Interest for alternative therapies (acupuncture, homeopathy, yoga, healing, etc.) and how effective they are.
In this chart, you'll see a very big difference between the genders in Europe. Boys have little interest while
girls have more interest than both women and men in the third world countries.

Page 10: Mean H2. read my horoscope (telling future from the stars)
Also very big differences between the genders all over Europe. Almost all girls have read it. In Africa, there's little difference bwteen the genders, and they all read the horoscope less than European girls

Page 11: Mean C9. Interest for astrology and horoscopes, and whether the planets can influence human beings
While European girls still are much more interested than men, it is nowhere near the same as having merely read the horoscope. African countries top the score here.

The rest pretty much explain themselves
Page 12: Mean C11. Interest for life and death and the human soul
Page 13: Mean C13. Interest for why we dream while we are sleeping, and what the dreams may mean
Page 14: Mean C14. Interest for ghosts and witches, and whether they may exist
Page 15 Mean C15. Interest for thought transference, mind-reading, sixth sense, intuition, etc.

Page 16: Mean E34. Interest for why religion and science sometimes are in conflict
This is an interesting chart. It can be interpreted in two ways. Say, in Norway, most youths are not interested in learning about this. Is it because they're less religious over all, or is it because religion here is more adapted to the scientific outlook, and the conflict is less obvious than elsewhere?

Part 2: Eurobarometer, (grown-ups, Europe)
(Some of the questions are normal health questions and I'll skip them)

Page 26: Praying? (last year, to cure a health problem)
This is the graph I posted on top here.The numbers are all over the place, but women are always praying the most.

Page 27: Tried homeopathy? (last year, to cure a health problem)
Page 28: Herbal medicine? (last year, to cure a health problem)
Page 29: Tried Ostheopathy? (last year, to cure a health problem)
Page 30: Tried meditation or yoga? (last year, to cure a health problem)

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Born Again Relativism

"To illustrate, only 9 percent of those self-identifying as "born-again Christians" even hold a biblical worldview, according to respected Christian pollster George Barna, whose organization has been tracking believers for over two decades. Almost half of "born-agains" – 45 percent – teach their children there are no absolute values.
"You might expect that parents who are born-again Christians would take a different approach to raising their children than did parents who have not committed their life to Christ, but that was rarely the case," Barna said.
In fact, reported the pollster: "For years we have reported research findings showing that born-again adults think and behave very much like everyone else. It often seems that their faith makes very little difference in their life.", January 18, 2008

Religious activity affects genders differently

"Women who stop being religiously active are three times more likely to suffer generalized anxiety disorder than women who have always been religiously active, researchers report.
In contrast, the researchers found that men who stopped being religiously active were less likely to suffer major depression than men who had always been religiously active."

HealthDay News, January 6, 2008
The only thing to be learnt here is that there's a difference between men and women. Stopping to be "religiously active" is not the same as becoming atheists, so what we're talking about here isn't so much the beneficial effects of religion as the beneficial effects of social interaction that incidentally happens in church.
Men probably get bored in church.

New atheists or new anti-dogmatists?

"What is strange is that, when one actually reads them, one gets the feeling that the real target of the "new atheists" isn't religion at all.
Indeed, they all explicitly say they have little or no problem with deism, or Spinozian pantheism or what Dawkins calls "Einstein-ian religion". Harris, Dennett and Hitchens (and possibly Dawkins) have indicated that they wouldn't necessarily want to see the synagogues, churches and mosques emptied, though they would want to see them abandon their “metaphysical bullshit” (see this video towards the end).
It seems that the new atheists’ real problem is with dogma, and specifically with the dogma of religious faith - with the belief that it is acceptable, even admirable, to believe propositions without logically sound reasons based on good evidence. They aren't really the “new atheists” at all, but the “new anti-dogmatists”."

Benjamin O'Donnell,, 25 January 2008
I think this is a good observation. But it still needs some comments. Why is deism less of a problem than Christianity? Simply, because you can't buy yourself favours from God. There's no reason to act in irrational ways to achieve a special place in Heaven or to avoid Hell. And when you can't explain something, it's kind of pointless to say that a non-interfering god had been interfering. So Deism in itself is not much of a problem.
My only gripe with it is that when you actually accept that some god exists, then the next person can say: "Well, then what's stopping God from interfering in our lives?" And then Deism has fueled religion again, because no Deist would be able to prove to other believers that God never interfers. The best thing is therefore if we somehow can rid the world of this superstition.
"Thankfully, Fascist, Nazi and Communist dogmas have been so discredited that almost no one believes them any more. This is a development to be celebrated."
This is true, but he unfortunately he didn't explain why they are discredited. Now they had their obvious flaws, but so do religions and they're still alive. But imagine for a second that Marx didn't simply write books. Imagine that the idea about a Communist paradise was apparently given to him by prophecy. (An angel came down to Marx and gave him the Heimlich Maneuver while telling him weird stories.) This would have made Marxism and Communism religions, and therefore not testable. As it were, communism collapsed due to being a crap system, which it was not supposed to be and the superior nazis lost the war. So they failed the tests. Islam and Christianity are also crap, but they're not testable on earth. You have to die to know if they're wrong or not.

So, if Communism and Nazism were religions that people believed in, and which were "outside" the reach of science, then they most likely wouldn't be gone. All sorts of morons would say: "Oh, we have to respect Nazism. It's their faith that they are superior. Hitler gave them faith.". And so on. (Which reminds my of the brilliant parody on Terry Eagleton: The Fascism Delusion.)

So they were indeed testable and lost the fight with democracy. Thanks to not being religions.

Friday, January 25, 2008

The Lost Quran Archive

"On the night of April 24, 1944, British air force bombers hammered a former Jesuit college here housing the Bavarian Academy of Science. The 16th-century building crumpled in the inferno. Among the treasures lost, later lamented Anton Spitaler, an Arabic scholar at the academy, was a unique photo archive of ancient manuscripts of the Quran.[...] The wartime destruction made the project "outright impossible," Mr. Spitaler wrote in the 1970s.
Mr. Spitaler was lying. The cache of photos survived, and he was sitting on it all along. The truth is only now dribbling out to scholars -- and a Quran research project buried for more than 60 years has risen from the grave."

Wall Street Journal, January 12, 2008

This is a very interesting story in many ways. Firstly, it is great news that historians can get their hands on this. With some research, we'll soon see the same effect that has torpedoed literal reading of the bible for anyone with a minimum of intellect.
Now there's another question: Why did the scholar, Mr Spitaler, hide the photos? This would of course have been tremendous for any scholar to his or her hands on.
"Another possible factor, she adds, was Mr. Spitaler's own deep religious faith. She opens up a copy of a Quran used by the late professor, a practicing Catholic, until his death. Unlike his other Arabic texts, which are scrawled with notes and underlinings, it has no markings at all.
"Perhaps he had too much respect for holy books," says Ms. Müller."
OK, so we've lost 60 years of research thanks to Mr. Spitaler's faith and are now up to our necks with Muslim fundamentalists.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Swedes don't need a book to be moral

I found an interesting Swedish story in the Christian paper Dagen that I translated the gist of:

"A new survey, the Bible barometre 2008, shows that 32 per cent of Swedes think the bible is important for their own morality and ethics.
Krister Andersson, secretary of the Bible company, says that an earlier survey has shown that the golden rule is at the core of Swedish morality.
When the question is more open: "Is there any writing that strongly affected your ethics and morality?" 20 per cent mentioned the bible. Of the other alternatives, the UN Declaration of Human Rights was the most common with 4 per cent.
But most people, 62 per cent, hadn't read any writing at all that made such an impression.
- This is very surprising. I thought more people were going to say that they had some sort of written or scriptural starting point for their moral judgements, says Krister Andersson.
He was also struck by the variation of writings and writers that were mentioned under "Other". On the list there's among others The Diary of Anne Frank, newspapers, Dalai Lama, Fröding, Greek philosophers, the Swedish Law, the catecism, and the scout law. Some of the asked also mentioned the upbringing they were given by their parents: "I try to be honest and fair to people."
As with the Biblebarometre 2006 and 2007 this year's survey shows that about eveyr tenth person reads the bible at least once a month, while four out of read it only rarely.
Those who consider the bible most important are the older generations, 65 years and older.", 2008-01-17
What I liked about this survey wasn't merely that it showed how many read or didn't read the bible, but it showed that 62 per cent did not pick up their morality from a particular book.
I think it's fair to say that they hardly discovered their moral principles within their own heads, but that they don't simply stick to one book or one type of philosophy. Throughout life most of us read a lot, listen to a lot, and watch a lot and doing this we absorb a lot of moral reasoning. And we stick to the ideas that make sense to us personally instead of being too dependant on one book. Let's say you need advice, would you not preferably want to get it from more than one person?

It also reminded me about something Dawkins wrote in The God Delusion (p. 265):
"First, how is [the moral zeitgeist] synchronized across so many people? It spreads itself from mind to mind through conversations in bars and at dinner parties, through books and book reviews, through newspapers and broadcasting, and nowadays through the Internet. Changes in the moral climate are signalled in editorials, on radio talk shows, in political speeches, in the patter of stand-up comedians and the scripts of soap operas, in the votes of parliaments making laws and the decisions of judges interpreting them."
On the subject of books, I'll plug a new book from Prometheus books that I think could be worthwhile to read. Knowing myself I'm not sure I would get through its 800 pages, but if you're going to read one book this year, then this might be the book.
Successor to the highly acclaimed Encyclopedia of Unbelief (1985), edited by the late Gordon Stein, the New Encyclopedia of Unbelief is a comprehensive reference work on the history, beliefs, and thinking of America’s fastest growing minority: those who live without religion. All-new articles by the field’s foremost scholars describe and explain every aspect of atheism, agnosticism, secular humanism, secularism, and religious skepticism. Topics include morality without religion, unbelief in the historicity of Jesus, critiques of intelligent design theory, unbelief and sexual values, and summaries of the state of unbelief around the world. More than 130 respected scholars and activists worldwide served on the editorial advisory board and over 100 authoritative contributors have written in excess of 500 entries.

In addition to covering developments since the publication of the original edition, the New Encyclopedia of Unbelief includes a larger number of biographical entries and much-expanded coverage of the linkages between unbelief and social reform movements of the 19th and 20th centuries, including the labor movement, woman suffrage, anarchism, sex radicalism, and second-wave feminism.

The distinguished contributors—philosophers, scientists, scholars, and Nobel Prize laureates—include Robert Alley, Joe Barnhart, David Berman, Sir Hermann Bondi, Vern L. Bullough, Noam Chomsky, Daniel Dennett, Paul Edwards, Barbara Ehrenreich, Antony Flew, Annie Laurie Gaylor, Peter Hare, Van Harvey, Susan Jacoby, Paul Kurtz, Richard Leakey, Gerd Lüdemann, Michael Martin, Martin E. Marty, Kai Nielsen, Steven Pinker, Robert M. Price, Richard Rorty, John R. Searle, Peter Singer, Ibn Warraq, Steven Weinberg, George A. Wells, David Tribe, Sherwin Wine, and many others.

With a foreword by evolutionary biologist and best-selling author Richard Dawkins, this unparalleled reference work provides comprehensive knowledge about unbelief in its many varieties and manifestations.

About the Author
Tom Flynn (Amherst, NY) is the editor of Free Inquiry magazine, director of the Center for Inquiry, founding coeditor of Secular Humanist Bulletin, director of the Robert Green Ingersoll Birthplace Museum, and the author of The Trouble with Christmas, Galactic Rapture, and Nothing Sacred.

Saudi Arabia's Biblical Justice

"Lately in the news, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia has pardoned a rape victim who had been sentenced to prison and 200 lashes. [...] The international community was right to raise an outcry, and it's good to hear that this woman was spared, [...] However, I do wonder if the Christians who joined in the protest fully realize the implications of their position.


According to Christian theology, God deliberately laid down a set of laws - the Mosaic laws of the Old Testament - that were impossible for humans to obey perfectly, no matter how dedicated they were or how hard they tried. Since God is absolutely holy, he decreed that the punishment for failing to follow these impossible laws was death. This would have put humans in a hopeless situation, except that in New Testament times God sent Jesus to shed his divine blood, and thereby grant humans an undeserved, unmerited forgiveness and excuse them for their inability to follow the law.

The parallels are striking. The Saudi authorities, too, laid down an impossible, unrealistic set of laws - the sharia laws, which condemn women to lives of slavery and enforced ignorance. They decreed death as the punishment for breaking these cruel laws. And then, when a woman broke those laws, they chose to grant her a pardon from the punishment which they themselves created, and they consider this a great instance of mercy.

In both cases, we can rightfully stand dumbfounded, and point out that there's nothing merciful about "saving" someone from a cruel and irrational law that you yourself created!"

Daylight Atheism, Jan 5, 2008

That's a very fine point.

Strong atheists prepare for battle against religion

"Strong atheists prepare for battle against religion
Atheism is an increasingly stronger and well organized participant in the political debate in the Western world. This in particular, is due to that Atheists generally have better education and are more involved in politics.

By Morten Rasmussen and Sidsel Nyholm

With conferences, professional debaters and political backing Atheism has in few years become a professional participant in the discussion about science, religion and politics. In Denmark, Ateistisk Selskab experienced an annual doubling of its membership, so the organisation now has 750 members. In Sweden, Riksdagen [the parliament] is discussing a bill about state funding of the Swedish atheists in Humanisterna, that today amounts to 4200 persons and every day get another 10 nye members. In Norway the non-religious Human-Etisk Forbund already state funded and with its 67.000 members [72.000 as of 2008] it is only to be surpassed by the Norwegian [state]church.

In the book "Gudløs"["Godless"], that will soon be out, the religion sociologist Peter Lüchau, at the University of Copenhagen, has taken a closer look at how the atheists scored in a large European value survey. According to him it is in particular the profile of the atheists, that has gained them a lot of ground in the debate in the western world.
– Atheists are not ordinary people. Statistics show that they have a higher level of education, are more left oriented and are clearly more poltically active than the average European. They are used to act when they are not satisfied, and in particular, they have the resources and ability to get in the media, says Peter Lüchau.
Outspoken atheists like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris have additionally put their mark on the bestseller lists with their books, that with titles like "The God Delusion" and "The End of Faith" directly attack religion. And with increasing media coverage follows a growing interest, says Morten Warmind, religion sociologist at the University of Copenhagen.
– If you send a TV programme about making candles, more people will start to make candles. And as religion generally fills more debate, it's a natural consequence that atheism also appear in the media and thereby creates more interest, says Morten Warmind and stresses that the increasingly professional atheism corresponds with a growing religiosity.

–The debate on religion has become more polarized during the last few years. It means that there's suddenly an involvement among people whom earlier only had an interest for the subject, but wasn't organized according to their values and outlook. And this goes for both camps, says Morten Warmind.
In an interview with Kristeligt Dagblad today, one of the world's most prominent atheists, Richard Dawkins, is still bent on a direct confrontation with religion.
– I don't care about the non-believers who try to play around with liberal clergy and say that "It doesn't matter all that much, if we believe in God or not, as long as we're all happy and jolly together", he says and urges the world's "closet atheists" to stand up and be counted.

Kristeligt Dagblad, 05. jan 2008

The Curiously Postmodern Modern Apologists

"Back in November, a debate with a Christian in another comment thread took a curious turn:

"But I have faith in the gospel and what it promises me, just like you have faith in your readings. Your suposed facts and my suposed facts, what makes mine so wrong and your so right. Are facts from the bible so different from the facts you read from magazines, books and websites....nope. It all boils down to faith. Until you can tell me that you were there from the beginning up until now, you dont really have facts of your own do you. Neither do I, I dont proclaim to like you do. Faith boys, we all have faith, faith in what is up to you. I think I will stick with the gospel on this one."

Although this Christian believer didn't notice, what he was actually advocating was postmodernism and relativism. Just like the strawman academics whom conservatives love to hate, he was effectively proclaiming that there's no objective truth and no way to decide between competing worldviews, so we might as well choose whichever one makes us feel best.


It's mind-blowingly ironic that creationists and other Christian apologists, who've gone on so many jeremiads about our society's drifting away from God's absolute truth, are now advocating a relativist view in which the evidence is insufficient to decide any question and what you believe is simply a matter of which arbitrary premises you start out with. Perhaps we should take it as a good sign, an indicator of retreat: instead of arguing that their position is proven and others are disproven, religious apologists nowadays are seemingly reduced to claiming that we can't know that their position is false. Or perhaps it's just that they've discovered the postmodernist position can be useful: it makes it possible for even the most uneducated apologist to raise an insurmountable defense against rational counterargument."

Daylight Atheism, Jan 9, 2008

Friday, January 18, 2008

Catholic Church shown to be economical with the statistical truth

"New research shows that the Catholic population in Britain is falling dramatically, despite Church claims that new immigrants from Eastern Europe are bringing about a revival.
The new figures, from the Pastoral Research Centre, show that the numbers actively participating in Catholic life in England and Wales has fallen by more than half a million in the last 11 years. The statistics — compiled independently of the Church — are based on the number of people baptised in the last 50 years and more recent marriages, baptisms and deaths. It shows that many of today's Catholic adults are not returning to the Church to marry or baptise their own children or bury their dead.


Mr Spencer said: "Mass immigration is masking a huge alienation among the Catholic community. There is a huge unexplained loss of people to be found when you look at those who were baptised as babies, but who are not getting married or holding funerals and subsequent baptisms in Church."
Mr Spencer said that his statistics showed that 530,000 Catholics had ceased even minimal involvement with the Church since 1997, whereas official Church statistics put it at 72,000.


The new figures show that in 1958 almost 68,700 couples were married in a Catholic Church, whereas in 2005 just 14,700 Catholic weddings took place.
Most controversially, he found the number of late baptisms had risen over the last 50 years. In 1958 there were fewer than 5,000 baptisms of children between one and seven. In 2005 this had risen to 16,000. Mr Spencer attributed this to the need to prove baptism in order to get a place in a Catholic school.


Mr Sanderson said that the late baptism phenomenon reinforced the idea that the selection criteria that faith schools enjoy are forcing people to be dishonest, underhand and to act against their conscience in order to get their children a place in a state school of their choice. We do not accept that any admissions criteria are 'fair' which are religiously discriminatory or privilege religious schools to the detriment of community schools."
National Secular Society, 18 January 2008

Islamic converts more prone to terrorism

"There are many reasons people choose to convert. Some do so for love and marriage, others because they are looking for spiritual meaning. However, there are also those who convert to Islam as an alternative to the current liberal ideology. Especially after the terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers, converts tend to lean more towards political choices rather than spiritualism and personal choice.


In his book "Al Qaeda in Europe", Lorenzo Vidino expresses a similar viewpoint. Converts reach radical Islam through disillusionment with Western and European society. Especially with Islam, people convert as a form of social protest, with Islam serving as an alternative to neo-Nazi or anarchist groups.


This radicalization is not theoretical. Converts make up at the most 1-2% of the Muslim populations of different countries in Europe, but according to a recent study, they make up 5-6% of terrorists. According to Edwin Bakker, head of the Netherlands Institute of International Relations, converts tend to radicalism because they try to be as true to their religion as possible. In other words, for those converts, Islam is seen as a non-democratic movement, set on destroying liberalism.

Esther, International Relations, 01.15.08
There's plenty of links in the original text.