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June 25, 2016

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Depressing but not surprising: religious areas lead to less scientific thought

September 4, 2014

At least, fewer ideas and inventions patented.:

in a recent paper, Princeton economist Roland Bénabou and two colleagues unveiled a surprising finding that would at least appear to bolster the “conflict” camp: Both across countries and also across US states, higher levels of religiosity are related to lower levels of scientific innovation.

“Places with higher levels of religiosity have lower rates of scientific and technical innovation, as measured by patents per capita,” comments Bénabou. He adds that the pattern persists “when controlling for differences in income per capita, population, and rates of higher education.”

I don’t find that surprising at all.

Japan and China clearly stand out as highly secular, highly innovative countries. At the other extreme, meanwhile, we find nations like Portugal, Morocco, and Iran.

The United States isn’t very from Iran on the first graph provided but the writers clarify that the US does have a lot of patents.

While Chinese residents filed more total patent applications (560,681) in 2012 than citizens of any other country including the United States (460,276), the US still filed more patents per capita, since its population is less than a third of China’s.

Then the researchers focused on the States in general comparing religiously leaning states against others and found similar splits in terms of religious level vs scientific research.

It is important to keep in mind that these findings are correlational in nature; the authors explain that they do not allow for “definite causal inferences to be drawn.” Their own view is that causation probably “goes both ways”: Religiosity stifles innovation, but at the same time, innovation and science weaken religiosity. Or as they put it: “In both international and cross-state U.S. data, there is a significant negative relationship between religiosity and innovativeness (patents per capita), even after controlling for the standard empirical determinants of the latter.”

They also note politics having a lot to do with whether or not a state or country will be avidly pursuing scientific research.

Canada wasn’t mentioned anywhere in this but I’ve been reminded of Canada’s government while reading and an issue between journalists and climate scientists here. I’m not sure how religious Prime Minister Stephen Harper is but the government overall hasn’t been too open about letting scientists speak to the media about environmental issues.

Currently, a google search of “censorship of canadian scientists” gives more than 12 000 000 hits. While the articles and news stories about the muzzling of scientists in Canada are more than abundant, there has been no discernible public outrage or widespread demonstration of support. Perhaps the apolitical nature of the scientific community is to blame, or perhaps the widespread apathy is a tacit agreement with the current government’s opinion that science and politics shouldn’t mix. Whatever the cause, allowing science-based policy to fall by the wayside is shameful for a country that considers itself an example of well-balanced democracy.

A bit more about this from a weather viewpoint, and even more:

In a report called Muzzling Civil Servants: A Threat to Democracy, the UVic researchers present some chilling findings: Scientists are either told not to speak to journalists or to spout a chewed-over party line, rubber-stamped by their PR masters; the restrictions are particularly tight when a journalist is seeking information about research relating to climate change or the tar sands; Environment Canada scientists require approval from the Privy Council Office before speaking publicly on sensitive topics “such as climate change or protection of polar bear and caribou.”

You wouldn’t want the average citizen to learn too much about caribou, now. Who knows how crazy he could get with that kind of information?

It’s worrisome, definitely. I don’t know how much of Canada’s issue comes from religion specifically and how much from Harper and company just being anti-science. That’s a question for someone else to answer.


The One Minion Search Party: “Does god hate women?”

August 28, 2014

A couple hits for this question this week. Not for the first time, I look toward Religious Tolerance for an evenhanded approach to answering this one. It offers many examples out of the old testament that illustrate the low status of women at the time. This doesn’t mean particularly that god (should he exist) hates women, but he didn’t really punish any of the men for treating the women like property and restricting their freedoms or killing them outright so it’s pretty obvious why hate could be assumed here.

Deuteronomy 22:28-29 requires that a virgin woman who has been raped must marry her attacker, no matter what her feelings are towards the rapist. “If a man find a damsel that is a virgin, which is not betrothed, and lay hold on her, and lie with her, and they be found; Then the man that lay with her shall give unto the damsel’s father fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife….”

Numbers 5:11-31 describes a lengthy magical ritual that women were forced to perform if their husbands suspected them of having had an affair. A priest prepared a potion composed of holy water mixed with sweepings from the floor of the tabernacle. He proclaimed a curse over the potion and required the woman to drink it. If she were guilty, she would suffer greatly: her abdomen would swell and her thighs waste away. There is no similar magical test for husbands suspecting of having an affair with another woman.

On another page they offer more specific examples, some of which show women in a better light, but they’re few and far between.

The Jesus stories turn a lot of that around, showing him as rebelling against tradition in a lot of ways but as the Church gained popularity and influence, conflicting books and ideas really confused the matter.

To my thinking, the question shouldn’t be “Does god hate women?” but more along the lines of a two-parter:

“Why do certain men hate women?”
“Just how big a role has religion played in helping certain men hate women?”

Maybe hate’s the wrong word. It’s a pretty strong word, but clearly there’s a distinct lack of compassion in some men for the plights of women, and the rights of women.

It’s not all guys, it’s certainly not all religious guys, but there’s that subset of guys (and the inexplicable subset of women that support them). Those guys that, for whatever reason, continue to have political sway and want to restrict and limit women’s rights to abortion and birth control and are even willing to criminalize women who miscarry for any reason.

Rennie Gibbs in Mississippi (2011)

Gibbs became pregnant aged 15, but lost the baby in December 2006 in a stillbirth when she was 36 weeks into the pregnancy. When prosecutors discovered that she had a cocaine habit – though there is no evidence that drug abuse had anything to do with the baby’s death – they charged her with the “depraved-heart murder” of her child, which carries a mandatory life sentence.

Others are mentioned in the article.

Women in El Salvador (2013)

El Salvador is one of five countries with a total ban on abortion, along with Nicaragua, Chile, Honduras and Dominican Republic. Since 1998, the law has allowed no exceptions – even if a woman is raped, her life is at risk or the foetus is severely deformed.

More than 200 women were reported to the police between 2000 and 2011, of whom 129 were prosecuted and 49 convicted – 26 for murder (with sentences of 12 to 35 years) and 23 for abortion, according to research by Citizens’ Group for the Decriminalization of Abortion. Seven more have been convicted since 2012.

Purvi Patel in Indiana (August 26, 2014)

Women’s rights advocates see the decision by prosecutors of St Joseph County, Indiana, to apply feticide laws against Patel as part of the creeping criminalization of pregnancy in America. At least 38 of the 50 states have introduced fetal homicide laws intended to protect the unborn child and in a growing number of states – including Alabama, Mississippi and South Carolina – those laws have been turned against mothers.

It’s revolting. There’s no other word for it.

I’ll end here. Thoughts?


If it’s not a curse, then Ebola is God’s way of ridding the earth of atheists…

August 13, 2014

and abortionists and homosexuals and promiscuity in general. At least, if Rick Wiles can be believed. (News flash: he can’t.)

He’s a talk show host for something called Trunews and has become convinced that Ebola will cleanse the earth and Obama will deliberately spread the virus so he has an excuse to declare martial law on the country.

He believes that this is the opportunity the president has been looking for in order to throw people into FEMA camps.

“If Ebola becomes a global plague, you better make sure the blood of Jesus is upon you, you better make sure you have been marked by the angels so that you are protected by God,” Wiles ranted. “If not, you may be a candidate to meet the Grim Reaper.”

I look to Rationalwiki for a description of this FEMA camp idea. I’m out of the loop.

FEMA concentration camps exist in the mind of a particularly loopy bunch of conspiracy theorists who believe that mass internment facilities have been built across the continental United States by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, in preparation for a future declaration of martial law.

Ah.

The theory’s proponents don’t express a lot of worry about the Centers for Disease Control, which actually does have the power to intern large numbers of citizens pretty much immediately as needed.

So I guess his thinking goes as follows: Unleash the Ebola on all the people Wiles doesn’t like (how does Obama know who to hit with it?) and then the CDC will react and quarantine all the people Wiles doesn’t like who are now afflicted and this will give Obama a reason to declare martial law and somehow save all the people Wiles does like…

Can Obama declare martial law? I don’t know how far down the rabbit hole I want to be going here… Now The End Begins and America’s Freedom Fighters give a bit of a look into where this kind of thinking can lead.

Nowhere I’m mentally equipped to go, that’s for damned sure. These topics are better left to better, more educated bloggers and proper journalists.


I’m glad I don’t live in Saudi Arabia

August 7, 2014

Not just because I’m a woman, but let’s face it, I’m a woman. And if a woman in Britain whose face and hair shows on Saudi TV freaks those fundamentalists out, I’m very grateful to live in Canada unfilmed by the media.

The unprecedented appearance of a female newsreader on Saudi state television without a headscarf has caused a scandal in the deeply conservative Islamic state.

The unnamed anchor, who has previously worn a hijab in clips circulated online, was reading a bulletin from London for the Al Ekhbariya channel.

Strict Islamic dress codes in Saudi Arabia require women to dress “modestly” – usually with headscarves, veils and full-length abayas.

While women do sometimes appear without head coverings in programmes broadcast by state-controlled channels, newsreaders are never seen without the hijab.

She’s so conservatively dressed in the picture, it’s hard to see what fuss anyone could make out of the woman but fuss there is.

What is considered acceptable varies across the country, with the full veil (niqab) worn almost universally in the more conservative capital Riyadh, whereas some women opt for the hijab in the more relaxed city of Jeddah.

Society has been divided over the possibility of granting women more rights as the Government’s labour ministry encourages more women to take up jobs in the private sector, against strong resistance from conservative groups.

I applaud the women bold enough to let their hair show and I really don’t know if I’d have the audacity and courage to do the same in their position. I really don’t know.

Slightly related, I suggested to my banned book club last week that I’d be interested in reading “I Am Malala” but a couple people scoffed at that, saying it was American propaganda or some such. Maybe they’re right in terms of the plot of the story and its American influence. I don’t know; I haven’t read it. But she is getting propoganda accusations from the Pakistani audience.

The invective often aimed at Malala on Pakistani social media and in comment sections of news websites reflects the ambiguous image the girls’ rights campaigner has in her own country, despite being lauded for her work in the West.

In recent weeks, Malala has been criticized for not being quick enough to publicly condemn the killing of Palestinian civilians in the ongoing Israeli offensive against Hamas in the Gaza strip. Her detractors complain she has been more involved in the effort to release the hundreds of Nigerian schools girls abducted by the hard-line Islamist Militia, Boko Haram in April than she has been in the Gaza conflict. “Did you just realize that Israel and Palestine are at war after you were strongly condemned for not speaking out earlier? Your fan ratings have seriously fallen,” a reader going by the name Sana Imran commented on the online version of a story by a leading paper.

I can’t speak on conflicts half a world away. I’m not following the news intently enough to comment with any assurance that I’d report a valid opinion on anything going on over there. I’m approaching 40. Malala is 17. Not to sound crass, but what does she know? What can she know, really? I’m being serious with my question. How much weight would her opinion have on the people of her country. Would it have any power to alter the status quo? They don’t like where her apparent priorities lie. She’s 17. Maybe she isn’t in a position to have a educated opinion on Gaza or Hamas or Israel or Palestine. Or Boko Haram. I don’t know. Maybe it wouldn’t matter what she’d say on a topic; people would find a reason to disregard it, either because of her age, or because she’s a woman.

Two roadblocks to progress, right there.

I dunno.

Thoughts?


A Question of Atheist Scruples – Round 3

May 15, 2012

I’m getting a kick out of doing this. Some of the questions out of this old Scruples game are a bit absurd and others leave too many options open for answers, but overall it’s getting interesting. Here are today’s ethical quandaries.

A friend asks you to join a demonstration for worldwide nuclear disarmament. You are busy. Do you go?

Where is it and how long does it run? If it’s at City Hall on a Sunday afternoon, I could probably swing it. Laundry could wait a few hours. If it would require weeks off work and cramped days sitting in a VW bus filled with angry sign waving hippies, I’d have to pass on it, no matter how much I might agree with them.

This isn’t news I stay abreast of, but I’ve found an opinion piece in the Toronto Star where the writer takes this position in terms of Iran.

Universal abolition of nuclear weapons is indeed a utopian ideal. As has been pointed out, it could not work in today’s international system of “a world divided into nations maintaining their full sovereignty.”

The authors of that comment were not utopians, though. They were the U.S. joint chiefs of staff. This was their judgment back in 1946, at the very dawn of the nuclear era.

Instead, we’ve gone the route of trying, by pressure and bribery, to limit nuclear weapons to respectable nations — or to weak ones (like Pakistan and North Korea). The consequence is an Iran within touching distance of gaining nuclear capability, and after it, almost anybody.

The alternative to that route would be, in essence, some form of global nuclear governance. Excruciatingly hard to accomplish, of course. But isn’t it time long overdue to have a serious discussion of that option?

And wasn’t that kind of initiative exactly the sort of thing that Canada, long ago it now seems, used to do and indeed was quite good at? Why not regain our voice?

We’ve seen the fall-out in terms of what happens in a nuclear event. Nagasaki and Hiroshima are testaments of that. No matter how bad one’s enemies are (or said to be), they’re still going to be surrounded by the innocent, those completely undeserving of the punishment. They didn’t necessarily choose their leaders and they don’t necessarily agree with them either. Those aren’t weapons anyone should use. They aren’t just enemy killers. They’re world killers.

Late one evening, your 19-year-old son asks permission for his girlfriend to stay over. Do you give it?

First, I’d be happy he asked. It shows respect for me and my house, which is cool, and if I said no, I think that means he’d abide by my decision instead of trying to sneak her in under the radar and risk disappointing me. (Or, he’s been sneaking her in for a while and finally feels some guilt about it…) While he’s nineteen and technically an adult, I’d rather know where he is and who he’s with than be up wondering why he isn’t home yet and what kind of trouble he might be getting into. If that means he has his girlfriend stay over once in a while, I think I’d probably be fine with it, so long as his girlfriend isn’t 17 or younger. I’d also be insisting on birth control, probably in some horribly embarrassing kind of way that only a parent can do.

You are a doctor. You have diagnosed a terminal illness. The family begs you to keep it from the patient. When the patient asks, do you tell him the truth?

If he asks, is it a safe bet that he probably already suspects that’s the case? I can’t see how lying to the guy would help the whole family cope with the news in the long run. I’d try to encourage them all to be open with each other and deal with the reality of the upcoming loss rather than pretend it’s not going to happen. They wouldn’t be giving their dad/grandfather/brother much credit. No doubt he’d notice a change in their behaviour towards him and know something was up. Also, how long does he have? If it’s a death that treatment could stave off for a few months, wouldn’t he want to know that option’s available sooner rather than later? At least give the whole family some time to consider the pros and cons of that.

Or, possibly the family just wants the news to come from loved ones instead of a complete stranger. Maybe they don’t intend to hide the truth from him at all, just choose the way they share it with him. In that case, I think I would have to respect their decision.

I leave the fourth open to readers:

The only available spot in the parking lot is reserved for the handicapped. You are in a hurry and won’t be very long. Do you park there?


Quotable misleading op-ed piece

January 31, 2012

Damn. With a headline like Tim Tebow Will be Responsible For the End of the World, I had theories about what direction the article would go. Alas, trickery!

I’ve been thinking about Tim Tebow a lot ever since Jesus Christ blessed Tom Brady with a 45-10 pounding of Tebow and his Broncos in the playoffs, in what I am convinced was God’s way of confirming He’s sick of the attention the evangelical quarterback is giving Him. Not long after Jesus blessed Tebow with an abysmal quarterback rating of 52.7 against the Patriots, I read an interesting perspective in the Washington Post. Columnist Charles Krauthammer ruminated on the question, ” Are We Alone in the Universe? “

Don’t they call that a “bait and switch” tactic? I come into the article expecting what the headline promises and get delivered something completely different. Then again, I’m not complaining. Not by a long shot. This is a better topic than Tim Tebow. I don’t even like hockey…

I’ll write more about it once I’m finished listening to the audio edition of Penn Jillette’s new book God, No! but one of the first things he said in it winds up slightly relevant. He suggested that three of the most important sentences an atheist has in his arsenal are these three: “I don’t know.” He explained that believers come across as incredibly arrogant people when they claim they know God’s mind or plan or purpose. Tebow believing that God and Jesus care about his football prowess.. really? His team has to care. His coach has to care. His fans probably care. But a god? I don’t know about that.

There’s a lot we don’t know. Scientists come up with theories and Krauthammer goes through a few of them in the article Mexico quotes. The topic of extra-terrestrial life is fascinating. Ignore everyone who insists they get abducted on a regular basis or claim to have photographic proof of a close encounter, “we” – as in astronomers etc. – are finding planets that could be viable yet there’s been nothing in the way of radio waves detected or any other signs that could be translated as “Hello out there!” Or worse, but just as exciting: “We’re coming to get you! See you in 50,000 years!” Both articles mention Carl Sagan’s thought that any civilization advanced enough to be detected might already be extinct, doomed by their own intelligence and technology.

One way to stop that from happening on earth: figure out how to get so many diverse cultures on one planet to behave and keep the peace. Mexico points to the way to start.

So long as religion is taken seriously, we can all agree, that global armistice will simply never happen. In a world rapidly advancing the ease with which we can render ourselves extinct, religious extremists will happily do it.

Quickly. Because it really only takes one. The only prayer homo sapiens have to stop the religious nuts–of all faiths–is by cutting them off at the knees. Ending religion on Earth.

I know, I know. Good luck with that. People hug their religions to their bodies like security blankets, or treat faith and beliefs as if they are as important to survival as livers, kidneys, and lungs. They can’t be made to divorce their religions, and banning the practice merely leads to underground attempts to retain them, with martyrdom extended to those who die for them. Being rid of religion. It’s a nice thought, but is it doable?

I don’t think belief in gods is the problem. The problem is behaviour. It’s one thing when you want to claim that god belief leads you to charities and doing the right thing. The trouble is, that same belief can be stretched to allow all manner of bad behaviour to be justifiable, too. Restricting the rights of women or gays, abusing children, killing anyone suspected of witchcraft, torturing anyone suspected of adultery. Religion leaves room for all of that. Plenty of room. Krauthammer points to politics:

There could be no greater irony: For all the sublimity of art, physics, music, mathematics and other manifestations of human genius, everything depends on the mundane, frustrating, often debased vocation known as politics (and its most exacting subspecialty — statecraft). Because if we don’t get politics right, everything else risks extinction.

We grow justly weary of our politics. But we must remember this: Politics — in all its grubby, grasping, corrupt, contemptible manifestations — is sovereign in human affairs. Everything ultimately rests upon it.

This is why it’s vital to push for politics and politicians to be secular. We need politics to be secular. Politicians have to speak for everyone, not just those who think and believe like they do. They have to have the future of everyone in mind. They have to be open to facts and reality. They have to have understanding of issues, not just positions to play on TV when their voters might be watching. If they’re against abortion, it needs to be for reasons other than “The bible says it’s wrong, therefore it’s wrong.” That’s not a reason, it’s a cop-out.

No religion would go part of the way towards fixing some of the problems with the world, that can at least be said with honesty. Not all of them, but it would be a start. Which reminds me, CFI Kamloops is hosting their second Imagine No Religion conference in May. A few of my Freethinker friends are going to that. They went last year, too, and had a good time. I know I should sign up for something like that at some point. I know it would be interesting and I can afford to go, but .. well, if excuses were mooses, dragons would fly… or whatever. They’ll come back with a report of what went on at least. I’ll live vicariously through the adventures of others.