All posts filed under: Secular

Atheism

How to Improve Your Skeptical Thinking

How to Improve Your Skeptical Thinking

It’s easy to say “be more skeptical” or “exercise better critical thinking,” but just how do you go about doing that? Where are you supposed to learn critical thinking? Learning skepticism isn’t like learning history — it’s not a set of facts, dates, or ideas. Skepticism is a process; critical thinking is something you do. The only way to learn skepticism and critical thinking is by doing them… but to do them, you have to learn them. How can you break out of this endless circle? Learn the Basics: Logic, Arguments, Fallacies Skepticism may be a process, but it’s a process that relies on certain principles about what constitutes good and bad reasoning. There’s no substitute for the basics, and if you think you already know all the basics, that’s probably a good sign that you need to review them. Even professionals who work on logic for a living get things wrong! You don’t need to know as much as a professional, but there are so many different fallacies that can be used in so many …

A popular theory that some people learn better visually or aurally keeps getting debunked

A popular theory that some people learn better visually or aurally keeps getting debunked

In the early ‘90s, a New Zealand man named Neil Fleming decided to sort through something that had puzzled him during his time monitoring classrooms as a school inspector. In the course of watching 9,000 different classes, he noticed that only some teachers were able to reach each and every one of their students. What were they doing differently? Fleming zeroed in on how it is that people like to be presented information. For example, when asking for directions, do you prefer to be told where to go or to have a map sketched for you? Today, 16 questions like this comprise the vark questionnaire that Fleming developed to determine someone’s “learning style.” Vark, which stands for “Visual, Auditory, Reading, and Kinesthetic,” sorts students into those who learn best visually, through aural or heard information, through reading, or through “kinesthetic” experiences.  (“I learned much later that vark is Dutch for “pig,” Fleming wrote later, “and I could not get a website called vark.com because a pet shop in Pennsylvania used it for selling aardvarks—earth pigs!”) …

Americans are deeply religious people—and atheists are no exception

Americans are deeply religious people—and atheists are no exception

Americans are deeply religious people—and atheists are no exception. Western Europeans are deeply secular people—and Christians are no exception. These twin statements are generalizations, but they capture the essence of a fascinating finding in a new study about Christian identity in Western Europe. By surveying almost 25,000 people in 15 countries in the region, and comparing the results with data previously gathered in the U.S., the Pew Research Center discovered three things. First, researchers confirmed the widely known fact that, overall, Americans are much more religious than Western Europeans. They gauged religious commitment using standard questions, including “Do you believe in God with absolute certainty?” and “Do you pray daily?” Second, the researchers found that American “nones”—those who identify as atheist, agnostic, or nothing in particular—are more religious than European nones. The notion that religiously unaffiliated people can be religious at all may seem contradictory, but if you disaffiliate from organized religion it does not necessarily mean you’ve sworn off belief in God, say, or prayer. The third finding reported in the study is by …

When Leaving Your Religion Means Losing Your Children

When Leaving Your Religion Means Losing Your Children

Chavie Weisberger was raised in an ultra-Orthodox Jewish community in Monsey, N.Y., and was forced to marry a man she barely knew when she was 19. The couple had three children, but when she began to question her faith and sexuality, she and her husband divorced – and she almost lost her children. The case is highlighting how New York courts handle divorce and custody issues for the state’s large ultra-Orthodox Jewish community. While Weisberger’s case was reversed on appeal last August – she has now regained full custody of her children – it brings to light the issues that arise when secular courts decide child custody in the religious community. People who leave the Hasidic community are often shunned by their family and friends, but they also are often forced to fight for their children, says Lani Santo, executive director of Footsteps, a social services organization that provides social and financial services for those transitioning to a secular lifestyle. “Time and time again, the argument of best interest of the child, as interpreted as …

How parents need to figure out how to talk to their kids without involving religion

Emily Freeman, a writer in Montana, grew up unaffiliated to a religion — culturally Jewish on her father’s side, a smattering of churchgoing on her mother’s. She and her husband Nathan Freeman talked about not identifying as religious — but they didn’t really discuss how it would affect their parenting. “I think we put it in the big basket of things that we figured we had so much time to think about,” Emily joked. But then they had kids, and the kids came home from their grandfather’s house talking about Bible stories. Nathan acknowledges that this came from a good place, and his father was acting in concern. “He feels like these lessons encapsulate a blueprint for how to move through life. And so of course, why wouldn’t we want our children to have those lessons alongside them as they travel through the world?” But while Nathan and Emily wanted their kids to learn about love and compassion, they didn’t want them to hear Bible stories. When the boys were so young, the certainty of those stories …

The cognitive science of religion

The cognitive science of religion (CSR) is a scientific approach to the study of religion that combines methods and theory from cognitive, developmental and evolutionary psychology with the sorts of questions that animate anthropologists and historians of religion. Specifically, CSR explores causal explanations of religious phenomena (thoughts, ideas, practices and experiences) across peoples and populations. It asks ‘How does ordinary human psychology inform and constrain religious expression?’ Four current prominent topics in CSR are introduced here: teleological reasoning about the natural world; children’s acquisition of God concepts; ‘minimal counterintuitiveness theory’; and religion and prosociality. Why is religion so common around the world? Why do some religious ideas and practices out-compete others? Why do religious practices take on common characteristics across cultures, and how deeply imbedded in human history and nature is religion? The cognitive science of religion (CSR) tackles questions such as these, attempting to understand the reasons for initial acquisition, recurrence, and continued transmission of religious concepts and behaviour. Psychologists – particularly scientific psychologists – have the training and tools to address such issues, …

Should Atheism Be Taught?

Louis J. Appignani, an 84-year-old living in Florida, tells a compelling story about his conversion to atheism. Despite attending Catholic schools from a young age and through his teens, he didn’t really question belief in God growing up; people in his world, he said, sort of took faith for granted. Then he got to college and started reading the philosopher Bertrand Russell, who argued against traditional defenses of God’s existence and justified, as Appignani put it, “what I deep down believe.” Now, the proud atheist holds nothing back when it comes to his personal views on religion. The study of atheism, he said, “gave me strength to believe that faith is stupid … [that] mythology is not true.” Appignani started his career as a businessman, serving as the president and chairman of the famous Barbizon International modeling and acting school, among other endeavors. In 2001 he turned his focus to atheism, establishing the Appignani Foundation, which supports “critical thinking” and “humanistic values” and has given grants to organizations such as the American Humanist Association and the Secular Coalition for America. Then, …

Debating creationists

The 2001 discovery of the seven million-year-old Sahelanthropus, the first known upright ape-like creatures, was yet more proof of humanity’s place among the great apes. And yet Mike Pence, then a representative and now US vice president, argues for the opposite conclusion. For him, our ideas about our ancestors have changed, proving once more that evolution was a theory, and therefore we should be free to teach other theories alongside evolution in our classrooms. How to respond? The usual answer is that we should teach students the meaning of the word “theory” as used in science – that is, a hypothesis (or idea) that has stood up to repeated testing. Pence’s argument will then be exposed to be what philosophers call an equivocation – an argument that only seems to make sense because the same word is being used in two different senses. Just words Evolution, Pence argues, is a theory, theories are uncertain, therefore evolution is uncertain. But evolution is a theory only in the scientific sense of the word. And in the words …

Can You Be Good Without God?

“If God did not exist, then we would have to invent him,” said the French philosopher Voltaire. His point: that without a divine being to check right and wrong, any number of atrocities are possible and could go unpunished. A recent study (of more than 3,000 people in 13 countries) published in the journal Nature Human Behavior echoes Voltaire’s maxim. Looking at intuitive thinking—presumptions drawn by individuals through unconscious biases—researchers led by Will M. Gervais, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Kentucky, discovered that most individuals intuitively conclude that a serial killer is more likely to be an atheist (approximately 60 percent) than religious (approximately 30 percent). While this assessment may resonate with many religious individuals, it undoubtedly is far from the conscious conclusions of most atheists, who find social prejudice difficult to overcome. The idea that atheism is a gateway to moral anarchy, for example, is not new. Other studies on public views of atheism indicate that 40 percent of Americans disapprove of nonreligion and 27 percent see atheists as not …

Censoring Richard Dawkins

A notoriously vocal critic of religion and the author of The God Delusion, Dawkins’ invite was rescinded because, according to KPFA, his comments on Twitter and elsewhere had “offended and hurt … so many people” in relation to their religious identity. In a letter of apology to those who had bought tickets to attend the event, and as a preemptive response to criticism, the station also stated: “While KPFA emphatically supports serious free speech, we do not support abusive speech.” Dawkins responded to the claims in an open letter posted on his website. He denied that he had used such abusive speech against Islam, stressing that any critique he had made had instead been aimed at Islamism. He also challenged KPFA to provide evidence of their claims against him. Counter speech or gagging? The station’s decision follows a now-familiar pattern of similar incidents of no-platforming at various institutions. Responses to such cases are easy to predict, with those in favour lauding the decision not to provide a public platform for offensive views. Those who fiercely …