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cleanhippie's Journal
cleanhippie's Journal
March 30, 2012

Religious Students Have Fewer Interracial Friendships

Using data from the National Longitudinal Study of Freshmen (NLSF), Julie Park, an educationalist at the University of Maryland, has investigated how inter-racial friendships and religious affiliation interact. The NLSF was an annual survey of White, Black, Latino, and Asian American students from 28 selective institutions that ran from 1999 to 2004.

During their fourth year of college, students were asked to “think of the four people at [your college] with whom you have been closest during your college years.” They were also asked to list the race/ethnicity of each of the friends. What she found was that the most religious students (based on self-reported religiosity, their frequency of religious service attendance, and their religious observance) also had the fewest friends from other races. What’s more, Protestant or Jewish (but not Muslim, Hindu or Buddhist) students also had the fewest mixed-race friendships. That’s probably because these are the two major religious groups.

These two effects were independent – so the most mono-cultural people were the most religious Protestants and Jews. This held even after controlling for a bunch of other factors, including the racial diversity of the college, the diversity of their previous school, and the race of the student. And on top of all this, belonging to a religious club reduced the chances of inter-racial friendship still further! That wasn’t the case with other clubs (except explicitly ethnic clubs – and even here the effect was smaller than for religious clubs).

Now, the interesting thing about these three factors – religiosity, religious denomination, and membership of a religious club – isn’t that they weren’t highly correlated. That means that they seem to have independent, additive effects. Park concludes that:

While all of these dimensions certainly overlap and are difficult to disentangle, there are likely distinct facets of each one that may contribute to a student being less likely to form close interracial friendships during college … It appears that there is no single reason why religion appears to lower the probability of interracial friendship during college, but a combination of affiliation, involvement, and specific involvement in religious peer environments lowers the likelihood of close interracial friendship.

March 29, 2012

Maybe in the near future?

A man can still dream, right?
March 29, 2012

Our brains have evolved to look for patterns and assign meaning, even when none exist.

All this talk about having evolved to believe in god or how we are born religious got me thinking about a book I read last year by Michael Shermer, The Believing Brain. We are not evolved to believe in god or religion, but instead we are evolved to look for patterns and assign meaning to these patterns, even when no pattern or meaning exist.

Book Review: The Believing Brain. Michael Shermer

Skeptic in-chief, Michael Shermer has an important and fascinating new book. The Believing Brain: From Ghosts and Gods to Politics and Conspiracies – How We Construct Beliefs and Reinforce Them as Truths – describes how our beliefs arise from patterns and that these beliefs come first, and explanations for those beliefs comes second. Shermer reviews 30 years of leading research in cognitive science, neurobiology, evolutionary psychology and anthropology and numerous real-world examples to show how the belief mechanism works. This holds for our beliefs in all manner of important spheres: religion, politics, economics, superstition and the supernatural.

Shermer proposes that our brains are “belief engines” that “look for and find patterns” quite naturally, and it is only following this that our brains assign these patterns with meaning. It is these meaningful patterns that form what Shermer terms “belief-dependent reality.” Additionally, our brains tend to gravitate towards information that further reinforces our beliefs, and ignore data that contradicts these beliefs. This becomes a self-reinforcing loop where beliefs drive explanation seeking behaviors to confirm those beliefs which are further reinforced, and drive further confirmation seeking behavior. In fact, the human brain is so adept at looking for patterns it “sees” them in places where none exist. Shermer calls this “illusory correlation”. Birds do it, rats to it; humans are masters at it. B.F. Skinner’s groundbreaking experiments on partial reinforcement in animals shows this “patternicity” exquisitely.


This goes a long way to describing all manner of superstitious behaviors in humans. But Shermer doesn’t stop there. He also describes how and why we look for patterns in the behaviors of others and assign meaning to these as well. Shermer call this “agenticity”. This is “the tendency to infuse patterns with meaning, intention and agency”. As he goes on to describe:

… we often impart the patterns we find with agency and intention, and believe that these intentional agents control the world, sometimes invisibly from the top down, instead of bottom-up causal laws and randomness that makes up much of our world. Souls, spirits, ghosts, gods, demons, angels, aliens, intelligent designers, government conspiracists, and all manner of invisible agents with power and intention are believed to haunt our world and control our lives. Combined with our propensity to find meaningful patterns in both meaningful and meaningless noise, patternicity and agenticity form the cognitive basis of shamanism, paganism, animism, polytheism, monotheism, and all modes of Old and New Age spiritualisms.

Backed with the results of numerous cross-disciplinary scientific studies, Shermer’s arguments are thoroughly engrossing and objectively difficult to refute.


Published last year, this book uses actual science. And as Shermer is quoted as saying:
"I’m a skeptic not because I do not want to believe, but because I want to know. How can we tell the difference between what we would like to be true and what is actually true? The answer is science."
March 28, 2012

The Worst Thing about Creationism

Of all the things about creationism, perhaps the worst is simply its lack of beauty. It teaches – nay, encourages – people to be content with a small Universe. It teaches that it is okay, even good, to look up at that deep band of stars that comprise the Milky Way and to say, “Meh. What else is there?” This is what believers in special creation are taught. They believe, most arrogantly, that there is nothing greater out there than their concept of an ever-shrinking, ever-so-tiny god. They believe that all we say was created for us a mere 6 thousand years ago.

Reason, rationality, and science encourage one to sit outside on one of those warm summer nights, pure awe undaunted by the anonymous fears lurking in the dark. They say, Look! there’s so much to be known. Don’t ever be satisfied with the Universe you know. They teach, “Wow! What else is there?” They teach that it is not good but stupendously great to wonder – and it is even greater to tear that wonder asunder and leave it in shattered little pieces so to discover that, yes, there are still deeper wonders. That is the prize of knowledge. Creationism rejects this beauty.

Of course, none of this says whether one or the other is true. Reality dictates that (and reality has a strong bias toward the truths of science). What this does suggest, however, is that something so vile, empty, and ugly as creationism or petty, little humanoid gods has no place among the robust beauty of science and reason and rationality. Go outside and look at the stars.

March 25, 2012

Coalescing the atheist political movement

Thousands of atheists and non-believers gathered at the nation’s capital on Saturday as part of a movement to rally the group's political interests into a secular coalition. Up host Chris Hayes invites Harvard University Professor Steven Pinker, Washington Post blogger Jamila Bey, author Susan Jacoby, and podcast co-host Jamie Kilstein, to join his panel as they discuss how atheism and politics intersect.


March 25, 2012

We are in an "Age of Ignorance"

x-posted from GD.

Widespread ignorance bordering on idiocy is our new national goal. It’s no use pretending otherwise and telling us, as Thomas Friedman did in the Times a few days ago, that educated people are the nation’s most valuable resources. Sure, they are, but do we still want them? It doesn’t look to me as if we do. The ideal citizen of a politically corrupt state, such as the one we now have, is a gullible dolt unable to tell truth from bullshit.

An educated, well-informed population, the kind that a functioning democracy requires, would be difficult to lie to, and could not be led by the nose by the various vested interests running amok in this country. Most of our politicians and their political advisers and lobbyists would find themselves unemployed, and so would the gasbags who pass themselves off as our opinion makers. Luckily for them, nothing so catastrophic, even though perfectly well-deserved and widely-welcome, has a remote chance of occurring any time soon. For starters, there’s more money to be made from the ignorant than the enlightened, and deceiving Americans is one of the few growing home industries we still have in this country. A truly educated populace would be bad, both for politicians and for business.


In the past, if someone knew nothing and talked nonsense, no one paid any attention to him. No more. Now such people are courted and flattered by conservative politicians and ideologues as “Real Americans” defending their country against big government and educated liberal elites. The press interviews them and reports their opinions seriously without pointing out the imbecility of what they believe. The hucksters, who manipulate them for the powerful financial interests, know that they can be made to believe anything, because, to the ignorant and the bigoted, lies always sound better than truth:

Christians are persecuted in this country.
The government is coming to get your guns.
Obama is a Muslim.
Global Warming is a hoax.
The president is forcing open homosexuality on the military.
Schools push a left-wing agenda.
Social Security is an entitlement, no different from welfare.
Obama hates white people.
The life on earth is 10,000 years old and so is the universe.
The safety net contributes to poverty.
The government is taking money from you and giving it to sex-crazed college women to pay for their birth control.

One could easily list many more such commonplace delusions believed by Americans. They are kept in circulation by hundreds of right-wing political and religious media outlets whose function is to fabricate an alternate reality for their viewers and their listeners. “Stupidity is sometimes the greatest of historical forces,” Sidney Hook said once. No doubt. What we have in this country is the rebellion of dull minds against the intellect. That’s why they love politicians who rail against teachers indoctrinating children against their parents’ values and resent the ones who show ability to think seriously and independently. Despite their bravado, these fools can always be counted on to vote against their self-interest. And that, as far as I’m concerned, is why millions are being spent to keep my fellow citizens ignorant.


March 25, 2012

Is it really that difficult to accept that there is a huge difference between...

ridicule of a belief and ridicule of a person?

Why is this concept so difficult for people to understand. Even if you are one who (purposely or ignorantly) equivocates the two, you would find yourself guilty of doing just that when you mock a belief you find ridiculous, such as the belief that Obama is a muslim socialist.

If you find that mocking a persons beliefs is the same as mocking a person, then you must hold that the belief that President Obama is a muslim socialist is a valid and respectable belief. So do you, or do you find that belief to be ridiculous?

Any belief or idea (religious, political, philosophical, whatever...) that is held to be true without merit, evidence, or basis in reality, is ridiculous.

Just think about it. You'll get it.

March 25, 2012

I have been racking my brain for weeks trying how to talk about Reason and being Reasonable...

Adam Savage at the Reason Rally. IMO, one of the best of the day.

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