Thursday, April 12, 2007

Christian divorce rates higher than that of atheists, agnostics: study

Recently released statistics of the frequency of divorce in various religious groups show some interesting findings. Notably, the incidence of divorce in atheist and agnostic marriages was lower than any religious group studied.

Author Donald Hughes states, "In the churches, people have a superstitious view that Christianity will keep them from divorce, but they are subject to the same problems as everyone else, and they include a lack of relationship skills. ...Just being born again is not a rabbit's foot."

I find it interesting that for all the flak non-religious people take for having lesser morals, it is the religious marriage that seems most likely to fail.

"These findings confirm what I have been saying these last five years. Since Atheist ethics are of a higher caliber than religious morals, it stands to reason that our families would be dedicated more to each other than to some invisible monitor in the sky. With Atheism, women and men are equally responsible for a healthy marriage. There is no room in Atheist ethics for the type of 'submissive' nonsense preached by Baptists and other Christian and/or Jewish groups. Atheists reject, and rightly so, the primitive patriarchal attitudes so prevalent in many religions with respect to marriage," Ron Barrier of American Atheists said of the findings.

The most alarming quotation from the article? David Popenoe, claiming that the findings must be wrong because "
...Christians follow biblical models of the family, making a bond that 'the secular world doesn't have...It just stands to reason that the bond of religion is protective of marriage, and I believe it is.'"

That's right, David. The statistics must be wrong because they don't line up with your religious beliefs. Riiiiiight.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Catholic mother responds to atheist son

Wow... I never knew that Christmas was all about getting presents from Jesus. I also find it funny how the mom uses going to church every day as a punishment or remedy for the problem of her son thinking for himself.

Sunday, April 8, 2007

New discoveries show areas of brain responsible for religion

CNN recently reported scientific discoveries that demonstrate certain areas of the brain are responsible for human religion.

It's an interesting article. The author's attempt at witty humour leaves me a little miffed, however:

"Today, scientific images can track our thoughts on God, but it would take a long leap of faith to identify why we think of God in the first place."

I don't think it would be that much of a leap at all. To understand why we believe in God (or in fact any religion), we need to ask ourselves not why we believe in such things, but what survival value a brain that is prone to such beliefs would have had in the wild?

The natural world is filled with all sorts of patterns, and organisms able to perceive and respond well to those patterns would conceivably do better than those which did not. Heavy rains leading to a flood; prolonged sun exposure leading to burnt skin; loud, low growls signalling the approach of a predator--all of these things are naturally occurring patterns that it would be beneficial to recognize. Of course, it's not necessary to have conscious pattern recognition. A species need only develop instinctual, genetic responses to the patterns around them to gain an advantage.

It follows then, that our highly developed human brain should be quite sophisticated indeed when it comes to recognizing patterns. It is our ability to understand and process patterns that gives us our unique ability to simulate and plan for the future. Unfortunately, when making decisions about patterns, there's always a potential for error. Religion is just such an error--it's an example of the human mind identifying a pattern that doesn't exist. Case in point: creationism. Since everything we see around us has an ultimate cause or creator (clay pots, houses, automobiles, computers, etc.), we assume that the universe itself must have had a creator as well. Even if we don't spend much time consciously considering it (as I would suggest is the case with most religious people) the belief that there is some type of creating force behind the universe almost "naturally" flows out of our everyday experience.

So, we believe in God because our brains are hard-wired to search for patterns and to explain them, and "God" is a convenient label our brains can use to explain the origin of the things around us that would seem to go otherwise unexplained. I wouldn't be surprised if, in the future, we find that the areas of the brain responsible for religious belief are also linked with instinctive pattern recognition.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Did the Red Sea Part? No Evidence, Archaeologists Say

The New York Times reported this week that it is unlikely that Moses ever parted the Red Sea. In this article, Egyptian archaeologist Zahi Hawass leads reporters through the remains of a recently discovered military fort in the area, and states that there is no evidence of the Exodus, the 40 years of wandering, or the parting of the sea. My favourite quote by the scientist:

"If they get upset, I don’t care. This is my career as an archaeologist. I should tell them the truth. If the people are upset, that is not my problem.”

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

A Scientist Who Believes

In this article on CNN, Dr. Francis Collins, a microbiologist and director of the Human Genome Project, explains how he can be both a scientist and a believer in the Christian God. He argues that science isn't able to answer questions like "what is the meaning of life," or "what happens after we die?" In searching for answers to these questions, Collins converted to Christianity.

Strangely enough though, Collins seems to refute his own argument in the following quotation
"Faith is reason plus revelation, and the revelation part requires one to think with the spirit as well as with the mind. You have to hear the music, not just read the notes on the page. Ultimately, a leap of faith is required."

Basically what Collins is saying, then, is that it is in fact not possible to make a scientific, rational decision that the Christian God exists. Instead, the decision must be made in the face of a complete lack of evidence (hence the required "leap of faith"). The scientific method is concerned with the observation of evidence, and faith is belief in spite of (or because of) a lack of evidence. Otherwise it wouldn't be called faith. As we can see then, Collins made an unscientific decision to convert to Christianity. He admits as much himself.

In one of the comments that follows, Alan Goldstein says it best:

As is typical of believers, Collins was looking for answers, and when he didn't find them (or more likely didn't care for the answers he found), he turned to superstition. For example, what is the meaning of life? Science would say "Life has no meaning, other than the meaning we give to it." I think this is a wonderful answer, and immensely preferable to, life exists because god was bored. And that our sole purpose for existence is to please god enough, so that we may enter heaven and sing his praises for all eternity."

It's really unfortunate that a man who holds such a prestigious position would abandon the rational morals of his profession because he did not care for the answers they provided, however stark and rigorous they may be. What a loss.

Oh well. To make you feel better, here's a graph showing who killed the largest number of people in the Bible.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Why are Geeks Often Atheists?

A recent post on examines why a large percentage of the "geeks" who frequent the Internet describe themselves as atheists. While it's not a scientific study, it's thought-provoking nonetheless.