Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Church wins the award for intolerance

"To say that religion is part of our culture, therefore we should cherish it, is a circular argument. The Church spent a thousand years intolerantly stamping out rival strands of culture, insisting that every ritual from birth to death be celebrated in its halls. So yes, it is part of my culture."

MATT RIDLEY, THE TIMES, 21 February 2012
An excellent quote in an otherwise nice piece.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Muslims in Wales pass on their faith at higher rates than other religions

"The Cardiff University study, published online today in the journal Sociology, says that the proportion of adult Muslims actively practising the faith they were brought up in as children was 77%. That compares with 29% of Christians and 65% of other religions.

The study also found that 98% of Muslim children surveyed said they had the religion their parents were brought up in, compared with 62% of Christians and 89% of other religions.

The team analysed data from the Home Office’s 2003 Citizenship Survey data, using 13,988 replies from adults and 1,278 from young people aged 11 to 15.


Home Office statistics show that 74% of people in Wales are Christians but that only 7% of those attend church."

Walesonline.co.uk, Feb 13 2012 (Found via Islam in Europe)
Talk about "good and bad news"! The downside of such a study is that many people who identify as Christians, but don't give a toss about religion in their daily life, will suddenly feel the urge to compete with the muslims. Instead of embracing our secular future, they may turn around and cling to the past only because the Muslims do it.
On the other hand, 27% apostates within Islam is not a bad number considering how Islam is portrayed.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Evaluating God

"While many polls have asked what Americans’ beliefs are about God, there has been little measurement of voters’ evaluation of its performance."

Publicpolicypolling.com, July 22, 2011

Old poll, but I just found it in a recent grumpy TownHall.com commentary which neglected to include a source nor a date. Anyway, fairly interesting to see all the "not sure" answers. No doubt many of them were also unsure whether or not to dare say they were unsure.  Here are the results (PDF)

"Q7 If God exists, do you approve or disapprove of its performance?
Approve ............. 52%
Disapprove......... 9%
Not sure ............. 40%
Q8 If God exists, do you approve or disapprove of its handling of natural disasters?
Approve ............. 50%
Disapprove......... 13%
Not sure ............. 37%
Q9 If God exists, do you approve or disapprove of its handling of animals?
Approve ............. 56%
Disapprove......... 11%
Not sure ............. 33%
Q10 If God exists, do you approve or disapprove of its handling of creating the universe?
Approve ............. 71%
Disapprove......... 5%
Not sure ............. 24%"

Poll reveals majority of UK Christians support secular outlook

"Results of a poll carried out by Ipsos MORI for the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science (UK) show that UK Christians are overwhelmingly secular in their attitudes on a wide range of issues.


The poll revealed that, on balance, significantly more Christians:

    agree that the law should apply equally to everyone, regardless of their religion or belief (92% v 2%)
    oppose religion having special influence on public policy (74% v 12%)
    oppose the UK having an official state religion (46% v 32%)
    oppose seats being reserved for Church of England bishops in the House of Lords (32% v 25%)
    support the costs of hospital chaplains being met by the chaplain's religious organisation rather than from NHS budgets (39% v 32%)
    want state-funded schools to teach knowledge about the world's main faiths even-handedly, rather than inculcate beliefs (57% v 15% solely Christian inculcation or 8% inculcate other school faith)
    approve of sexual relations between two adults of the same sex than do not (46% v 29%)
    approve of an adult woman's right to have an abortion within the legal time limit (62% v 20%)
    support the legalisation of assisted suicide in the case of terminally ill adult patients with safeguards (59% v 21%)"

National Secular Society, 14 Feb 2012
See lengthy press releases with lots more numbers here:
RDFRS UK/Ipsos MORI Poll #1: How religious are UK Christians?
RDFRS UK/Ipsos MORI Poll #2: UK Christians oppose special influence for religion in public policy

Here are the full results of the poll (PDF)

See also:
"The kind of conservative religious aggression that claims 'anti-Christian discrimination' every time Christians are asked to treat others fairly and equally in the public square is a threatened response to the loss of top-down religion's social power. So is overbearing 'Christian nation' rhetoric, and the 'culture wars' that some hardline believers and non-believers may seek to launch and win against each other.


"Likewise, Richard Dawkins may not be a subtle, unbiased or persuasive analyst of religion overall, but it would be entirely unhelpful for believers to dismiss this survey because they disagree with its commissioner in other respects. Its content evidently needs further and deeper analysis, alongside other data, than the initial response to it has allowed."

Ekklesia (Christian think-tank)

Daily Telegraph: Christians don't want religion to 'influence public life'

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Six Reasons Young Christians Leave Church

"No single reason dominated the break-up between church and young adults. Instead, a variety of reasons emerged. Overall, the research uncovered six significant themes why nearly three out of every five young Christians (59%) disconnect either permanently or for an extended period of time from church life after age 15.

Reason #1 – Churches seem overprotective.
Reason #2 – Teens’ and twentysomethings’ experience of Christianity is shallow.
Reason #3 – Churches come across as antagonistic to science.
Reason #4 – Young Christians’ church experiences related to sexuality are often simplistic, judgmental.
Reason #5 – They wrestle with the exclusive nature of Christianity.
Reason #6 – The church feels unfriendly to those who doubt."

Barna.org, September 28, 2011

See the original article for further description of the reasons why young people leave the church.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Visions of Angels Described in Bible May Have Been Lucid Dreams

"Sleep researchers say they have established that many of the visions of angels and other religious encounters described in the Bible were likely "the products of spontaneous lucid dreams."

In a sleep study by the Out-Of-Body Experience Research Center in Los Angeles, 30 volunteers were instructed to perform a series of mental steps upon waking up or becoming lucid during the night that might lead them to have out-of-body experiences culminating in perceived encounters with an angel. Half of them succeeded, the researchers said.


Raduga, whose organization is partly funded by sales of his "practical guide" books on lucid dreaming, designed the experiment to test his theory that many reports of miraculous encounters are actually instances of people experiencing this vibrant, lifelike dream state. If he could coach people to dream a realistic religious encounter, he said, that could prove that many historical accounts of such encounters — such as Elijah's vision in the Bible — are really just products of people's imaginations."

Livescience.com, 21 December 2011

Sunday, February 5, 2012

In the West, religious nations are more sexist

"First of all, let's look at the correlation with a straightforward measure of whether women can be leaders, which was assessed by asking the level of agreement with two questions: “On the whole, men make better political leaders than women do” and “On the whole, men make better business executives than women do.”

Overall, there's a fairly good correlation. But there is an exception, and that's Asian countries.  There are only a few Asian countries in the sample, so it's hard to draw sweeping conclusions. But they are all very sexist, whether their citizens are religious (Thailand, Taiwan) or non-religious (China, Hong Kong, Japan)

So I took these countries out of the analysis - in fact, what's shown in the graphic is only those countries with a predominantly Western, Christian culture (i.e. North and South America, Europe, and Australia).

In these Westernised countries there's a strong, linear relationship between religion and sexism.

In fact, if you narrow the sample a bit more to look only at European countries the fit is even cleaner (I haven't shown this, but it's a remarkably straight line)."

Epiphenom.fieldofscience.com, Tom Rees, November 11, 2011

Religion vs. sexism

Religious people are less likely to take their medicine

"Sarah Finocchario-Kessler, at the University of Kansas, used data from one such drug trial to see what the effect of religious beliefs (and other psychological factors) was on medication taking.

She found that people who put themselves in God's hands really were less likely to take their medicine.

To be precise, people who used a passive religious deferral coping style (e.g. "I don’t try much of anything; simply expect God to take control") were less likely to take their medicine as often as they were supposed to.  On the other hand,  collaborative religious coping "I work together with God as partners" or self-directing religious coping (e.g., "I make decisions about what to do without God’s help" had no effect on whether people took their medicines.

The biggest effect was with those people who scored high on the "God as locus of health control" measure - that means people who agreed with statements like "Whether or not my HIV disease improves is up to God." "

Epiphenom.fieldofscience.com, Tom Rees,  March 02, 2011

Kids are less likely to come with supernatural explanations than adults

"It's pretty much taken as an assumption these days that human beings are 'natural-born believers'. Ask a cognitive scientist who specializes in religion, and they will tell you that our brains are predisposed to all sorts of supernatural concepts.


And when independent researchers outside the core groups test the hypothesis, they often get results that don't fit the story. That's the case with a new study by Jacqui Woolley, a psychologist at the University of Texas.

She and her colleagues read some short tales to a bunch of kids (67 in total) aged 8, 10 or 12, and also 22 adults. All the stories illustrated a 'difficult to explain' event.


So they read these stories and then asked the listener how the event could be explained. The surprising thing was that the kids hardly ever offered up supernatural explanations.


Adults, on the other hand, readily offered up supernatural explanations. There was a clear trend, too, as you can see in the graph - the older the child, the more likely they were to explain these strange happenings by recourse to the supernatural

Epiphenom.fieldofscience.com, Tom Rees, October 04, 2011

Kids are less likely to come with supernatural explanations than adults

Simply being near a church makes people more hostile to outsiders

"In a recent study, Jordan LaBouff (University of Maine) worked with colleagues at Baylor College to discover whether attitudes to different groups are affected by subliminal Christian priming.


So what effect does religious priming have on ordinary people? To test this, LaBouff stopped people at random outside a church in the Netherlands (and, to check if the effect was culturally specific, a few people outside Westminster Abbey in London). He asked them a series of questions, including asking them to rate their attitudes to different groups on a 1-10 scale.

He also stopped some other people in a location that contained only civic buildings (in England, the location chosen was the Houses of Parliament).


But, as you can see from the graph, attitudes towards every single group were more hostile when people were asked outside a church. All the differences are statistically significant (except the difference in attitudes towards Christians)."

Epiphenom.fieldofscience.com, Tom Rees, Saturday, February 04

Attitudes towards different groups vary depending on where you ask the question.

Conservative religious beliefs strongly predict U.S. teen birth rates

"Some religions insist on the sexual abstinence before marriage. Isn’t it ironic that the journal Reproductive Health reports a correlation showing that the more religious the state, the higher the rates of teenage pregnancy?

Salon.com, Bernard Starr, Jan 8, 2012

Here's from the report by Reproductive Health:

With data aggregated at the state level, conservative religious beliefs strongly predict  U.S. teen birth rates, in a relationship that does not appear to be the result of  confounding by income or abortion rates. One possible explanation for this  relationship is that teens in more religious communities may be less likely to use  contraception. "

Religiosity and teen birth rate in the United States, Joseph M. Strayhorn and Jillian C. Strayhorn

See full report here.

Teen birth rate by religiosity

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Britain is becoming less religious, survey shows

 An interesting survey by NatCen shows that religion is indeed in decline in Britain. Download the PDF on religion here.

"The first point to note is that there is no evidence of a lifecycle effect – that is, as people grow older they become more or less religious. Non-affiliation remains relatively stable as each generation ages; for example, 30 per cent of those born between 1936–1945 did not follow a religion in 1983 (when they were aged 38–47 years), compared with 31 per cent in 2010 (when they were 65–74 years). 


Britain is becoming less religious, with the numbers who affiliate with a religion or attend religious services experiencing a long-term decline. And this trend seems set to continue; not only as older, more religious generations are replaced by younger, less religious ones, but also as the younger generations increasingly opt not to bring up their children in a religion – a factor shown to strongly link with religious affiliation and attendance later in life. 
What does this decline mean for society and social policy more generally? On the one hand, we can expect to see a continued increase in liberal attitudes towards a range of issues such as abortion, homosexuality, same-sex marriage, and euthanasia, as the influence of considerations grounded in religion declines. Moreover, we may see an increased reluctance, particularly among the younger age groups, for matters of faith to enter the social and public spheres at all. The recently expressed sentiment of the current coalition government to “do” and “get” God (Warsi, 2011) therefore may not sit well with, and could alienate, certain sections of the population. "

British Social Attitudes 28, 2011-2012

Now for the charts:
50 per cent has no religion in Britain

No religious affiliation, cohort analysis, 1983–2010
Current religious affiliation, by religious upbringing. Notice how despite having had religious upbringing a huge chunk ends up being non-religious.

Apatheism on the rise in USA survey shows

""The real dirty little secret of religiosity in America is that there are so many people for whom spiritual interest, thinking about ultimate questions, is minimal," says Mark Silk, professor of religion and public life at Trinity College, Hartford, Conn.


•44% told the 2011 Baylor University Religion Survey they spend no time seeking "eternal wisdom," and 19% said "it's useless to search for meaning."

•46% told a 2011 survey by Nashville-based evangelical research agency, LifeWay Research, they never wonder whether they will go to heaven.

•28% told LifeWay "it's not a major priority in my life to find my deeper purpose." And 18% scoffed at the idea that God has a purpose or plan for everyone.

•6.3% of Americans turned up on Pew Forum's 2007 Religious Landscape Survey as totally secular — unconnected to God or a higher power or any religious identity and willing to say religion is not important in their lives."

USA Today, 1/3/2012

Religious Young Adults Become Obese By Middle Age

"Young adults who frequently attend religious activities are 50 percent more likely to become obese by middle age as young adults with no religious involvement, according to new Northwestern Medicine research. This is the first longitudinal study to examine the development of obesity in people with various degrees of religious involvement.


Previous Northwestern Medicine research established a correlation between religious involvement and obesity in middle-age and older adults at a single point in time. By tracking participants’ weight gain over time, the new study makes it clear that normal weight younger adults with high religious involvement became obese, rather than obese adults becoming more religious.


The study, which tracked 2,433 men and women for 18 years, found normal weight young adults ages 20 to 32 years with a high frequency of religious participation were 50 percent more likely to be obese by middle age after adjusting for differences in age, race, sex, education, income and baseline body mass index. High frequency of religious participation was defined as attending a religious function at least once a week."

Northwestern.edu, March 23, 2011

Why Religion Makes Only Some of Us Happy

"Religious people tend to feel better about themselves and their lives, but a new study finds that this benefit may only hold in places where everyone else is religious, too.
According to the new study of almost 200,000 people in 11 European countries, people who are religious have higher self-esteem and better psychological adjustment than the non-religious only in countries where belief in religion is common. In more secular societies, the religious and the non-religious are equally well-off.


For example, a believer gets a happiness boost in Turkey, where religion is part of the fabric of daily life and taking part means you're doing the "right" thing in your culture. But that same person wouldn't see any benefit in Sweden, where few people care much about religion.


Nonetheless, the findings suggest that research on religion and happiness in the United States — where religion is relatively important compared with many other nations — may not apply across all cultures."

Livescience.com, 25 January 2012
In other words, it's good for you to be in the in group.

No positive correlation between religion and social morality

The World Values Survey has some interesting data on how religion and social morality correlates. Unfortunately, the article I'm referring to is from the Norwegian magazine Fri Tanke, but there's always Google Translate.

"[Bo Rothstein] points out that none of the 25 different indicators World Values ​​Survey's measure of human welfare, such as absence of corruption or the degree of confidence increases if religion gets more influence. Rather, it is quite the opposite. The results show that the more a society dominated by secular values, the higher is the human welfare.

- And, add to Rothstein, the same pattern is also evident if one only looks at the country dominated by Christianity

The degree of religiosity is composed of answers to the following six questions:

- Regardless of whether you go to organized religious practice or not, would you say that you are a religious person, not a religious person, or a convinced atheist?

- Apart from weddings, funerals and baptisms, how often you will meet up at religious arrangements?

- How important is God in your life?

- Do you believe in God?

- Do you believe in life after death?

- Does your religion give you well-being and strength?"
Well, enough talk. Let's see some charts:

Secular-rational values vs. Control of Corruption
Religiosity scale vs. life expectancy
Religiosity scale vs. average schooling years
Traditional values vs. secular rational values

Also, take a look at this Swedish article by Bo Rothstein. (Original)