Archive for April, 2012

The Global Atheist Convention

Posted in atheists on April 30th, 2012 by Phil Ferguson – Comments Off on The Global Atheist Convention

Critical Thinking is Antidote to Religion

Posted in atheists on April 30th, 2012 by Jim Newman – 2 Comments

Post by Jim Newman


Another study has come out indicating that intuitively inclined people are slightly more likely to be religious. Psychology Today has their take on the study.

Your answer to the following riddle can predict whether you are a believer in religion or a disbeliever:

Q:  If a baseball and bat cost $110, and the bat costs $100 more than the ball, how much does the ball cost?

A:  If you answered $10 you are inclined to believe in religion.  If you answered $5 you are inclined to disbelieve.

Why? Because, according to new research reported in tomorrow’s issue of the journal Science, the $10 answer indicates that you are an intuitive thinker, and the $5 answer indicates that you solve problems analytically, rather than following your gut instinct.

I am a creative, intuitive person. I am also an accursed intellectual, reviled in all questionnaires asking what trait you find desireable in a mate. My first response within nanoseconds was $1.00 and then knowing that it was a trick or thought based question recalculated. What is interesting to me is the either/or as I mess up enough that I have to check and double check everything. Knowing bias research I have rationally supported my iterative process–riding my elephant of intuitive iteration, perhaps. I would never consider answering a question once, one way. I know I would screw up. Whether this is historical or a mild form of ADHD I don’t know.

            Psychologists William Gervais and Ara Norenzayan, of the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, predicted that people who were more analytic in thinking would tend not to believe in religion, whereas people who approach problems more intuitively would tend to be believers. Their study confirmed the hypothesis and the findings illuminate the mysterious cognitive process by which we reach decisions about our beliefs.

It’s true in the face of arguments too many religious people rely on the faith answer–I don’t know, I just believe. The only response is always the desire and subsequent squelching of hitting them with something to see if belief is necessary for that experience. It’s so tedious because they are sing rationality all the way along and then when they get stuck, they whine “I don’t know, I just believe it.” Why crap bullshit in the first place? We cold have been drinking beers instead of arguing if they were going to give up when the going got tough. Don’t waste my precious arguing time if you’re going to change the premise along the way.

            Cognitive theory of decision making supports the hypothesis that there are two independent processes involved in decision making. The first process is based on gut instinct, and this process is shared by other animals. The second cognitive process is an evolutionarily recent development, exclusive to humans, which utilizes logical reasoning to make decisions. Their study of 179 Canadian undergraduate students showed that people who tend to solve problems more analytically also tended to be religious disbelievers. This was demonstrated by giving the students a series of questions like the one above and then scoring them on the basis of whether they used intuition or analytic logic to reach the answers. Afterward, the researchers surveyed the students on whether or not they held religious beliefs. The results showed that the intuitive thinkers were much more likely to believe in religion.

The book “Blink” shows too well that intuitive thinking is actually still vital in today’s society. A stranger approaches looking slightly menacing–you can look them in the face or look away. You can step aside. You can turn and run. You can smile, scowl, frown, or not change expression. You can stand a little more upright or act like you want to ignore them.  You can breathe confidence or temerity. All of this initial social triage occurs pretty instantly. There are many situations where we still desperately need what Daniel Kahneman calls System 1 thinking. It is less accurate but good enough and it also triggers rational thought as something necessary for the situation.

This is all aside from religion but it also reveals what your personality desires before you acknowledge it as well as other human biases. If you are strong in personal agent bias then you are going to react with that early. If you are strong in contrarian bias you will tend to always see things immediately as different. If you are a highly reactive personality, them you will be more likely to trust your instinct in the immediate. Since we are big combinations of biases and traits, it’s difficult to assess in advance what we will do unless trained in autoresponse to predicted situations by running simulations.

The feeling that there is a higher power is strongly linked to the bias of personal agency and ego death. Hence acid, zen, nature, the groove, near death and a host of other what were called peak experiences release the same “wow, ain’t that fucking amazing” response in humans. It also leads to dualism and the idea of free will since it plays on the separation of mind and world. While big experiences make us feel small, they also make us feel connected. The process makes us award of a relation between the inner world and the outer world in the same sense that I am not thinking about thinking until I think about it and then it feels like there is a thinker in there. All right enough psychoheadspacebabble. The intuitive can also come back and look at the constipated intellect and say hey bullshit time to get back to the narrative, for example.

            To test whether there is a causative basis for this correlation, the researchers then used various subtle manipulations to promote analytic reasoning in test subjects. Prior research in psychology has shown that priming stimuli that subconsciously suggest analytical thinking will tend to increase analytic reasoning measured on a subsequent test. For example, if subjects are shown a picture of Rodin’s sculpture “The Thinker” (seated head-in-hand pondering) they score higher in measures of analytic thinking in tests given immediately afterward. Their studies confirmed this effect but also showed that those subjects who showed increased analytic thinking also were significantly more likely to be disbelievers in religion when surveyed immediately after the test.

No doubt. This is also related to anchoring another bias. If you want to c0ntrol a conversation be the one who starts it and then it doesn’t even matter if you continue. By setting the tone, parameters, or initial thought, people start from there. My mother used to say if you want the answer to be what you want make sure all of the questions have answers you seek.

Aside from that bias religion relies on belief in the impossible which is harder to accept with rationality so it’s a “duh” moment to say such. What is interesting becomes what backs up the feeling of religion. It’s not that Francis Collins says a waterfall inspired him to believe but more importantly his experience of not knowing what to say to a dieing patient to make them feel comfortable.

            Three other interventions to boost analytic thinking had the same effect on increasing religious disbelief. This included asking subjects to arrange a collection of words into a meaningful sequence. If the words used for the subconscious prime related to analytic thinking, such as “think, reason, analyze, ponder, rational,” rather than control words “hammer, shoes, jump, retrace, brown,” subjects scored higher on tests of analytic thinking given immediately afterward, and they were also much more likely to be disbelievers in religion. This demonstrates that increasing critical thinking also increases religious disbelief.

This has always been the use of reasoned thinking. I think these tracks belong to a tiger. Hmm, no, they aren’t heavy enough in the pad. While it is popular to contrast intuitive and rational thinking as oppositional they are in utility combinatorial. Hence, why I get tired on the females as irrational and men as rational canard though I have to use this language for commnication

            Norenzayan emphasizes that “Analytical thinking is one of several factors that contribute to disbelief.  Belief and disbelief are complex phenomena that have multiple causes.  We have identified just one factor in these studies.”

Professor and Chairman Terrence Reynolds of the Department of Theology at Georgetown University finds it plausible that analytic thinking could make religious belief more difficult. “If one assumes that all rationality is tied to what we know directly through the five senses, that limits our understanding of meaning questions. Religion tends to focus on questions of meaning and value, which may not be available through analytic verification processes… by definition God is a being that transcends the senses.”

They lose it here. Meaning of not religiously derived is painfully gotten by hard thought. If not religious or intuitive then we work hard mentally to determine meaning. Value is the same way. I don’t know many atheist friends that just fall on value. They chose it through thought and experience. It is also why we can even think of an empirical moral landscape.

            Reynolds and Norenzayan agree that analytic reasoning is not superior to intuitive reasoning. “They both have their costs and benefits,” Norenzayan says. One of the consequences of the costs and benefits is one’s tendency to believe in religion. So whether you answered $5 or $10 provides insight into what you believe and how your beliefs are formed.

No pithy conclusion as it is time for me to go to Bush Gardens and simulate death on a roller coaster and enjoy those induced intuitive experiences created by my rational planning–though when I think of the finances I wonder at the suspension of critical thinking for my amusement-park, spiritual invigoration.

Jim Newman, bright and well

www.frontiersofreason and


Slow Jam The News

Posted in Uncategorized on April 29th, 2012 by Phil Ferguson – Comments Off on Slow Jam The News

Voice Of Reason: Sam Harris – The Morality Of God

Posted in atheists on April 28th, 2012 by Phil Ferguson – Comments Off on Voice Of Reason: Sam Harris – The Morality Of God

Why Do They Hate Women?

Posted in atheists on April 28th, 2012 by Jim Newman – 2 Comments

Post by Jim Newman


Foreign Policy has an excellent, long article on women in the Middle East titled “Why Do They Hate Us.” Written by Mona Eltahwy. I can’t recommend it too highly. It starts with:

In “Distant View of a Minaret,” the late and much-neglected Egyptian writer Alifa Rifaat begins her short story with a woman so unmoved by sex with her husband that as he focuses solely on his pleasure, she notices a spider web she must sweep off the ceiling and has time to ruminate on her husband’s repeated refusal to prolong intercourse until she too climaxes, “as though purposely to deprive her.” Just as her husband denies her an orgasm, the call to prayer interrupts his, and the man leaves. After washing up, she loses herself in prayer — so much more satisfying that she can’t wait until the next prayer — and looks out onto the street from her balcony. She interrupts her reverie to make coffee dutifully for her husband to drink after his nap. Taking it to their bedroom to pour it in front of him as he prefers, she notices he is dead. She instructs their son to go and get a doctor. “She returned to the living room and poured out the coffee for herself. She was surprised at how calm she was,” Rifaat writes.

She places the problems with women squarely onto religion noting that the mideast is the most horrid seemingly civilized place on earth for women.

Not a single Arab country ranks in the top 100 in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report, putting the region as a whole solidly at the planet’s rock bottom. Poor or rich, we all hate our women.

I remember the political correctness of multiculturalism in the 90’s before I left California. Even feminists were stumped by accepting female genital mutilation. The difficulty always is assessing whether there is consent to cultural practice. With inculcation a victim may actually praise the abuse. When someone, a victim, speaks out then we know no means no and not a hidden maybe.

Although he says female genital mutilation (which he calls “circumcision,” a common euphemism that tries to put the practice on a par with male circumcision) is not “obligatory,” you will also find this priceless observation in one of his books: “I personally support this under the current circumstances in the modern world. Anyone who thinks that circumcision is the best way to protect his daughters should do it,” he wrote, adding, “The moderate opinion is in favor of practicing circumcision to reduce temptation.” So even among “moderates,” girls’ genitals are cut to ensure their desire is nipped in the bud — pun fully intended. Qaradawi has since issued a fatwa against female genital mutilation, but it comes as no surprise that when Egypt banned the practice in 2008, some Muslim Brotherhood legislators opposed the law. And some still do — including a prominent female parliamentarian, Azza al-Garf.

The double standard of women having to follow religious law and do it better than men to prevent abuse and then to turn and talk against it shows the heroism of these so called lower class citizens.

Enter that call to prayer and the sublimation through religion that Rifaat so brilliantly introduces in her story. Just as regime-appointed clerics lull the poor across the region with promises of justice — and nubile virgins — in the next world rather than a reckoning with the corruption and nepotism of the dictator in this life, so women are silenced by a deadly combination of men who hate them while also claiming to have God firmly on their side.

Horrid it is that we would morally castrate ourselves because we are unwilling to interfere in a culture. Too close to the imperialism of the past we hesitate to demand justice where abuse is obvious. This are not quaint villages where the men and women share equal but different roles. These are horrid examples of wanton abuse and negligence which no person of sensitivity could deny.

How much does Saudi Arabia hate women? So much so that 15 girls died in a school fire in Mecca in 2002, after “morality police” barred them from fleeing the burning building — and kept firefighters from rescuing them — because the girls were not wearing headscarves and cloaks required in public. And nothing happened. No one was put on trial. Parents were silenced. The only concession to the horror was that girls’ education was quietly taken away by then-Crown Prince Abdullah from the Salafi zealots, who have nonetheless managed to retain their vise-like grip on the kingdom’s education system writ large.

Do not think for a moment that liberalism means fighting colonialism by ignoring the plight of abused people. These are not happy villagers playing with and loving each other. These are monsters willing to rape, pillage, and torment women. Few women are saying this is OK and those that do don’t mean it but are too terrified to seek help.

What hope can there be for women in the new Egyptian parliament, dominated as it is by men stuck in the seventh century? A quarter of those parliamentary seats are now held by Salafis, who believe that mimicking the original ways of the Prophet Mohammed is an appropriate prescription for modern life. Last fall, when fielding female candidates, Egypt’s Salafi Nour Party ran a flower in place of each woman’s face. Women are not to be seen or heard — even their voices are a temptation — so there they are in the Egyptian parliament, covered from head to toe in black and never uttering a word.

Read this article and weep. Let it motivate you to drop your apathy and realize that a woman crying rape in New York is no less important than a woman crying rape in Cairo. We ignore either to the death of our moral integrity.

Jim Newman, bright and well and

Jessica Ahlquist’s Hate Mail: Sexual, Violent Threats

Posted in atheists on April 27th, 2012 by Phil Ferguson – Comments Off on Jessica Ahlquist’s Hate Mail: Sexual, Violent Threats