All posts tagged: religion

Why believers deem atheists fundamentally untrustworthy?

Skepticism about the existence of God is on the rise, and this might, quite literally, pose an existential threat for religious believers. It’s no secret that believers generally harbor extraordinarily negative attitudes toward atheists. Indeed, recent polling data show that most Americans view atheists as “threatening,” unfit to hold public office and unsuitable to marry into their families. But what are the psychological roots of antipathy toward atheists? Historically, evolutionary psychologists argue that atheists have been denigrated because God serves as the ultimate source of social power and influence: God rewards appropriate behaviors and punishes inappropriate ones. The thinking has gone, then, that believers deem atheists fundamentally untrustworthy because they do not accept, affirm and adhere to divinely ordained moral imperatives (ie, “God’s word”). Research has backed up the deep distrust believers feel toward atheists. For example, in one study, Canadian undergraduates, who are typically less religious than their US counterparts, rated atheists as more untrustworthy than Muslims – and just as untrustworthy as rapists! Still, it hasn’t been clear why the leeriness of atheists …

Sisi’s religious revolution in Egypt

“We need a religious revolution!” Egyptian President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi declared those words a month ago as he addressed senior religious leaders from al-Azhar University and elsewhere while Egyptians celebrated the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. The speech was widely applauded in Egypt, particularly as it opened an ideological front to the battle against the Islamist violence that has troubled the country since the summer of 2013. His words seem especially significant after last week’s attack on security forces in the Sinai Peninsula that killed at least thirty and wounded many more. However, before Sisi is praised any more as a visionary and a reformer, observers should understand that Egypt and Sisi may not have the capacity to carry out much reform in Islamic thinking. First of all, what exactly does Sisi mean by a religious revolution? The general Western observer might interpret it as a call to overturn central Islamic institutions and principles in a bid to combat extremism. After the attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris, a number of Western media outlets hailed …

Shift in Japan’s Religions

New religious movements have been a part of Japanese society since the early nineteenth century. Some of them, much like the American new religions, Christian Science or the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, have become accepted institutions with one or even two centuries of history. The more established, such as Kurozumikyō (founded in 1814), have university-educated leaders who serve on the boards of respected museums and corporations, sit on government bodies, and are pillars of their communities. Unlike Sōka Gakkai and its political party Kōmeitō, or Happy Science and its Happiness Realization Party, they do not preach politics from the pulpit, because they believe in the separation of religion from state. Many new religious movements joined the Federation of New Religious Organizations of Japan (Shin Nihon Shūkyō Rengō Kai, generally called Shinshūren), founded in 1951. Shinshūren lobbies for a variety of progressive causes, including opposition to constitutional revision, and supports liberal politicians. Although the Association of Shinto Shrines (Jinja Honchō) previously belonged to Shinshūren, both it and numerous other religious organizations have recently …

The conflict between religion and science 2

Many scientists used to think that heat was the product of a material called phlogiston. It flowed into objects to make them hot and out to make them cold. But when they tested for this material, they could find nothing — objects weighed the same both hot and cold. Defenders of the theory insisted that phlogiston must be made of a material that, unlike all others, had no mass. Finding that heat is actually a result of the movement of molecules, phlogiston defenders suggested that making molecules move is just how phlogiston makes objects hotter. But they were only making ad hoc excuses to save their theory; there was no need to introduce phlogiston — it didn’t explain anything. Heat could be accounted for solely by the movement of molecules and atoms; no extra substance was needed. All the work that phlogiston was supposed to have done was now accounted for by other means. Of course, one can never disprove the existence of phlogiston — one can always make excuses. But, as we know, that …

The false dichotomy feminism

The occasion is provided by recent controversies concerning the delicate concepts of gender and race, where once again — as in both the cases of trigger warnings and of Islamophobia — I see well intentioned progressives needlessly (in my mind) and harshly attacking fellow progressives, or at the least, people who ought to be their natural political allies. (As in the other two cases, I will ignore contributions from the right and from libertarians, on the ground that I find them both less constructive and less surprising than those from the sources I will be discussing here.) Let me start with gender. I recently read with fascination an two year old New York Times op-ed piece by feminist Elinor Burkett entitled “What makes a woman?” explaining why a number of feminists have issues with certain aspects of the transgender movement, and in particular why Burkett had mixed feelings about the very public coming out of Caitlyn Jenner. First, Jenner: Burkett says that of course she supports a member of an often vilified gender minority when …

‘No religion’ The fastest growing religion in Australia

DESPITE a scare campaign about Australia becoming a “Muslim country”, those ticking “no religion” in the Census has now overtaken the number of Catholics. It’s the first time in Australia’s history the number of people who claim “no religion” has overtaken Catholics. The latest Census drop showed those ticking “no religion” rose from 22.6 per cent to 29.6 per cent — nearly double the 16 per cent in 2001. Meanwhile, those identifying as Catholic dropped from 25.3 per cent to 22.6 per cent. The number of Christians in total still made up 51 per cent of the population, but this is much less than the 88 per cent in 1966 and 74 per cent in 1991. Islam (2.6 per cent) and Buddhism (2.4 per cent) were the next most common religions reported. Islam grew from 2.2 per cent in 2011, overtaking Buddhism, which dropped from 2.5 per cent, to become the most popular non-Christian religion. The religion question was controversial this year, with Australians warned not to mark “no religion” on the Census survey by …

Skepticsociety Magazine Blog

The conflict between religion and science 1

Many, both theists and atheists, acknowledge the conflict between religion and science. This includes New Atheists like Richard Dawkins and also academic philosophers such as John Worall, who argue that one cannot be both purely scientifically minded and religious. Others disagree. Stephen Jay Gould, an agnostic, famously defended the NOMA thesis — that science and religion cannot be in conflict because they are about non-overlapping magesteria. His sentiments have been echoed by some academic philosophers, such as Del Ratzsch, who argues that the conflict between science and religion is greatly exaggerated. Most recently this thesis was reiterated by Alvin Plantinga in Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion and Naturalism. If there is a conflict, it is supposedly only about minor ideas that are usually found in small movements — like creationism, which is (they say) only popular in certain Christian fundamentalist segments of America. I disagree. Contrary to Gould, Ratzsch and Plantinga’s arguments, religion conflicts with science, especially regarding religious issues, doctrines, beliefs and thought processes of major significance. I will demonstrate why. For brevity, …

Skepticsociety Magazine Blog

Why is it that some people do not believe in God?

Some popular religious writers have claimed that atheists reject God because they were presented with the wrong kind of God. Atheists reject a god that is too small, it is claimed, and most have not considered the more sophisticated God that is really worth believing in. If only atheists considered the proper sort of deity, these authors insist, they would have long abandoned their atheism. This is the position of several authors who have written popular books on the subject over the last two decades: Karen Armstrong, John Haught, and David Bentley Hart, to name a few. I think these authors are incorrect. There are good reasons for rejecting belief even in their gods. Here I will focus on Armstrong’s version, but several of my remarks will be applicable to a number of other theologies. What sort of gods do these writers have in mind? If the wrong sort of God is “too small,” the right sort of God is much bigger: a radically transcendent being about which human languages can only speak indirectly. Armstrong …

Skeptic Society Magazine Child Marriage and Religion

Child Marriage and Religion

Last month, academics, advocates, and religious leaders gathered at an event organized by the Council on Foreign Relations during the American Academy of Religion conference to discuss the relationship between religion and child marriage. Although global rates of child marriage are on a downward trajectory, progress in curbing this practice has been far too slow. The United Nations estimates that one in three women aged twenty to twenty-four —almost 70 million women total — married under the age of eighteen. Approximately 23 million were married under the age of fifteen, and some were married as young as eight or nine years old. The implications are dire: child marriage is linked to poor health, curtailed education, violence, and lawlessness, all of which threatens international development, prosperity, and stability. Religion is often blamed for the prevalence of child marriage. Notably, however, the practice is not unique to any one faith; in fact, it occurs across religions and regions. For example, in India, where 40 percent of the world’s known child brides reside, child marriage is prevalent among both …