Posts tagged science
Posts tagged science
Religiosity and Intelligence: A Century of Research
For nearly a century, psychologists have studied the relationship between beliefs and . A recent review and meta-analysis of research from 1928 until the present time, found 63 studies investigating this topic. The results show that religiosity has a significant negative relationship with intelligence, suggesting that stronger religious beliefs are associated with lower intelligence. While this finding is not new, there are some interesting ideas about why this relationship exists.
First, the authors discuss the idea that atheists are nonconformists, and that more intelligent people are less likely to conform. As the authors state, “if more intelligent people are less likely to conform, they also may be less likely to accept a prevailing religious dogma.”
The second possible explanation is that more intelligent persons rely more logical reasoning and empirical evidence in their belief systems. It might not be intelligence per se that leads to a lack of religious beliefs, but a style that is more critical of the prevailing religious beliefs in a community.
The third explanation offered, which is relatively new in the literature, is that religious beliefs satisfy a number of psychological “functions,” such as a sense that the world is orderly and predictable. The authors argue that intelligence confers a sense of personal control that negates the need for religious beliefs. A second function that religiosity might offer is greater ability to control impulses. Finally, religion might serve the function of enhancing (most religions emphasize a personal relationship with god—a superior being), and religious communities offer a sense of belonging
Where and When Did Humans Evolve?
Excited to announce the premiere of The Advanced Apes, a new science show from PBS Digital Studios.
In the first episode, Cadell Last explains how scientists realized that we’re all African (evolutionarily speaking), how we spread across the Earth, and how that is reflected in the continuing evolution of our species.
Excited to share the YouTubes with Cadell and The Advanced Apes!
Bonus: Follow this up with some evolutionary biology rap from Baba Brinkman, “I’m A African”
teaching creationism as science*
I, for one, think it is important to teach and learn the predominant worldviews so that we may better understand one another. However, to teach these worldviews as science would be a farce.
And this is why I have true brotherly love for this man and subsequently, why I love the tools of science.
Richard Dawkins Reads His Hate Mail
+ Richard Dawkins Answers Questions & Reads His Hate Mail
+ Richard Dawkins Answers Reddit Questions & Hate Mail
+ Richard Dawkins Interviews Ted Haggard
+ Richard Dawkins ….and Bill O’Reilly
+ Richard Dawkins on Faith | The Arrogance of Immortality | Imagining A World Without A God (Gods?) | Natural Selection
+ Richard Dawkins “What’s So Bad About Religion?”
+ Richard Dawkins | Age of Reason (4 Parts)
+ Richard Dawkins | Brainwashing Kids Since The Bronze Age
+ Richard Dawkins | An Appetite For Wonder
+ Richard Dawkins | Interview for The Reason Documentary Project(56:38)
(Source: , via sagansense)
Former Christian Fundamentalist: Science Robbed Me Of My Faith
Author Ed Suominen explains how evolutionary biology forced him to abandon creationism — and the church
Ed Suominen was raised in a small sect of Lutheran Christianity called Laestadianism. Of the 32,000 denominations into which Christianity has fractured, his is one of the more conservative. Members believe in the literal truth of the Bible, including the creation story. They eschew sins like drinking, dancing, watching television, wearing earrings, and playing school sports. They marry only within their own sect and believe God alone should decide how many children they have. Suominen followed the rules; he met and married the right kind of girl, and together they have 11 children.
But Suominen is also an engineer, trained at the University of Washington. He has been a patent agent and an inventor, and eventually his work with electrical and digital systems led him to notice something his church hadn’t taught him about: the power of natural selection. He was trying to optimize a design, when he came across a useful software tool:
“You set up an artificial chromosome with each digital ‘gene’ determining a parameter for some widget you want to design. Then you created a population of individual widgets by running simulations with different sets of randomly chosen parameters, and had the widgets ‘mate’ with each other. You repeated this process over many successive generations, throwing in some mutations along the way. Those widgets that worked best in your simulation had the best shot at having ‘children’ in the next generation.”
It was the beginning of the end. After discovering the practical value of evolutionary computation, Suominen began reading about evolutionary biology. The Genesis story fell apart and frayed the fabric of his Christian belief.
Outsiders sometimes scratch their heads about the dogged insistence of creationists that Adam and Eve actually existed 6,000 years ago in a perfect garden without predators or pain, until they took Satan’s bait and bit into a world-changing apple. How is it, 100 years after Darwin, that we are still fighting about what will be taught in biology classes? Why, in their determination to refute evolution, do some Christians seem intent on taking down the whole scientific enterprise?
The answer lies in Suominen’s lived experience. As he puts it, “You don’t have original sin without an original sinner. And without original sin…you don’t need a redeemer.” In other words, the central story of Christianity, the story of a perfect Jesus who becomes a perfect human sacrifice and saves us all relies on the earlier creation story.
After evolutionary computation cracked the walls of Suominen’s information silo, his curiosity and training as an engineer took over. He spent the next year consuming books about Christianity, by defenders of the faith and by critics. He wrote about his spiritual journey in a series of musings now published under the title “An Examination of the Pearl.”
Since evolution is what most compelled his fascination, he began exploring the various ways Christians try to reconcile biblical teachings and biology. The end result was a second book, “Evolving Out of Eden,” written with Robert Price, a Bible scholar and former Christian. Suominen launched the project torn between curiosity and a desire to affirm old beliefs. By the end, he confessed:
“I was raised a fundamentalist and spent four decades living as one; I’m still not ready to call myself an atheist. But after co-authoring this book, I just can’t see where there’s any room for a god.”
In a recent interview, Ed Suominen discussed his life-changing journey.
Valerie Tarico: Your book is about evolution, both biological and personal. You’ve been through a change in worldview that most people can only imagine. Does it feel disorienting?
Ed Suominen: Yes, it’s a tremendous change. But I feel much less disoriented than when I was battling cognitive dissonance every day trying to maintain a coherent worldview out of pieces that just wouldn’t fit together. I’d come home from church on Sunday and spend hours or even days trying to recover my intellectual integrity. One part of my brain would continuously play the ominous soundtrack from my childhood indoctrination, repeated in church every Sunday: Believe or be damned. Meanwhile, another part would list off the hundreds of issues that made “belief” impossible and dishonest. And evolution with all of its theological dilemmas headed up that list.
It’s wonderful to be able to stand up and look over that toxic fog of piety and just see, accepting reality for what it so clearly is. I am happier now than I ever was in the church, despite the social loss of leaving it.
VT: Do you ever find yourself wishing you’d never opened Pandora’s Box?
ES: My old church had its annual nationwide summer services right near our home this July. Here I was, within 20 miles of a gathering of around 2,000 members of “God’s Kingdom,” which considers itself the only true church on earth. There were people I’d grown up with, people I’d been with in the pews and on camping trips for my whole life. They stayed in their place, and I stayed in mine, an outsider now. I certainly felt some pangs of longing. But it was only about the people, not the institution that envelops and controls them.
When I listened online to the sermons preached during those services, I wondered how I’d ever taken any of it seriously. One was all about Noah and the ark, and how God’s patience had run out when believers started intermarrying with people from “the world.” It’s an ancient myth copied from the epic of Gilgamesh, and this guy is sitting there doing a gross misreading of the text while taking it all very literally otherwise. The story itself is so ridiculous that many people in the church don’t really buy it. Yet it’s one of those things that you really are expected to believe—the Bible is God’s word, not to be questioned.
VT: How have your 11 children and your wife responded to your changes?
ES: While I was still wrestling with all this, my wife turned to me one Sunday morning and said, “I know this is how we were raised, but I’m not buying it anymore.” She had been doing some reading, too, and that was that. I had to study and ponder and write, even for a while after she made her quiet, no-nonsense departure from the church. She is a wonderful, bright woman whom I love and admire very much.
I respect my children’s privacy too much to talk extensively about their beliefs or lack thereof. That’s their business. But I will say that they seem to all be doing just fine with the changes in my wife and me, from the oldest to the youngest. Our home is a place where they can be free to think and believe, or not believe, for themselves.
VT: Would you say you lost your faith gradually, or might you describe it as a series of plateaus, punctuated equilibrium?
ES: Your “series of plateaus” analogy is an excellent one. I recall a few defining moments, starting with the realization that my God of the Gaps was gone. Evolution provided an elegant and tangible answer to the question for which the guided, supernatural process of creation previously had been my only answer: “How could all of these amazing forms of life, myself included, have just happened to arise?”
Then there was the upsetting day when I spoke with a preacher whom I respected (and still do) after sharing with him some of my thoughts about evolution. I asked him if I really had to reject human evolution and believe in Adam and Eve to be a Christian. He was thoughtful about it, but his response made clear where I stood with respect to the faith we both held dear: Yes, the fall of humankind in Eden is a foundational point of Christian theology. I wandered around in a daze for a while, sad and scared, but realizing that he had only told me what I already suspected.
I enlisted my friend Robert M. Price to see if there was any plausible theological solution. Dr. Price had been serving as a sort of spiritual therapist for me, helping me deal with the issues I’d been finding with my religion once evolution had “cracked the walls of my information silo,” as you adeptly put it. At this point, our work together turned into a full-blown writing project, and together we plowed through books by Francis Collins, John Haught, Kenneth Miller, and others who claimed to make sense of Christianity in view of evolution. But to us, despite trying to approach the theology with an open mind (which Price does even as an atheist), the only thing sensible about their books were their eloquent defenses of evolutionary science.
VT: Most creationists seem pretty adept at deflecting the evidence for evolution. Why did it get you?
ES: I saw it happening right in front of me on my computer screen. As an engineer with lots of software experience, I understood what the computer was doing. Simulated organisms were evolving remarkable abilities to move, swim, etc., and nobody was designing them to do that. Random mutations and genetic crossover between the fittest individuals in the population produced a new, slightly more evolved population. Repeated over hundreds of generations, it worked.
My reading did nothing but confirm this. All of the arguments I saw against evolution were made by believers in defense of their faith. I tried to look at both sides of the story, but it became obvious that there was only one side with any credibility. The other was just wishful thinking and denial.
VT: Out of all of the ways in which believers have tried to reconcile evolutionary biology and the Christian tradition, which seem to you the most robust or credible?
ES: That’s an insightful and difficult question, because the plausibility of these writers in the realm of theology seems to be inversely proportional to their acceptance of the science. You can head in one direction or the other, but you can’t have it both ways, despite their protests that they can. One of the most eloquent and level-headed about the scientific findings and issues for traditional theology is John F. Haught. Yet his tedious appeals to the “drama” and “aesthetic intensity” of evolution are so far off our credibility meter that it would be difficult to summarize our conclusions without sounding uncharitable. Our view of all these sorts of evolutionary apologetics, his included, might be apparent from the title of one of our subheadings, “Shoveling After the Parade.”
The most robust attempt to reconcile the irreconcilable may well be Philip Gosse’s “omphalos” idea that the universe was created recently with the appearance of great age. Of course, God created Adam with a navel and trees with rings! They wouldn’t be recognizable without those “retrospective marks,” after all. (Christians are faced with the same issue concerning Jesus and his magic Y chromosome.) It’s ridiculous and reduces God to a cosmic cosplayer, but at least it doesn’t try to dismiss all of the Bible’s clear teachings about a young earth and special creation, or fancifully reinterpret 2,000 years of Christian theology.
VT: Your story makes people feel hopeful that change is possible, that individually and collectively we can change and grow. What should people who are invested in science and progress say to creationist friends and family members?
ES: The stakes are too high to expect much rational deliberation of the evidence, I’m afraid. For me, the evidence of evolution snuck in the back door when I wasn’t looking.
Perhaps the best thing to say to creationist friends and family is that you understand why they believe so strongly, and that you’ll be happy to help them whenever they might wish to look beyond those beliefs. The first and most productive step might be getting them to acknowledge, to themselves at least, that religion is the real motivation for every single argument against evolution.
The World According To Richard Dawkins | [Long Read]
The scientist and Selfish Gene author talks to Giles Whittell about his new memoir, his childhood abuse – and what it’s like for an atheist to be labelled a fundamentalist
It feels a bit creepy to be counting pictures in Richard Dawkins’ downstairs loo, but evidence is evidence. Most of the pictures are actually awards, but it’s the number that counts: 21 honorary doctorates and international prizes, framed and hung along with a certificate from the 2008 Crufts dog show.
The dogs are around somewhere; we can hear them yapping. The loo gives onto a generous hallway, from where Britain’s top atheist leads the way through his sitting room and an enormous kitchen onto a terrace partly occupied by a two-tonne limestone picnic table hewn specially for him from Dorset’s Jurassic Coast. It’s pitted with hundreds of tiny fossils. We haven’t been shown the indoor swimming pool, but it’s there behind us in a long, low outbuilding.
It’s easy to envy Dawkins, as long as you have a thick skin and don’t believe in an afterlife. His gentler critics include the former Chief Rabbi and Professor Peter Higgs, of Higgs boson fame, and he has plenty of enemies (he added a few hundred thousand earlier this month by tweeting that Trinity College, Cambridge, had more Nobel prizewinners than all the world’s Muslims). But he has a huge and devoted following, too. He’s written 12 books including two epoch-making bestsellers. He has his large North Oxford home. He is a leading evolutionary biologist, a decent electronic clarinetist and a public intellectual in demand from Tokyo to Tennessee.
He hasn’t won a Nobel prize himself, but, as we sit at the Jurassic slab in glorious sunshine, he generously argues that several of his peers deserve one for books on science far less widely read than his own.
This is important, because one scientist whom Dawkins commends to the Nobel committee is Steven Pinker of Harvard University. Pinker’s book, The Better Angels of Our Nature, explains the decline of violence in human society partly in terms of what Dawkins calls our “shifting moral zeitgeist”. Apparently, this means we’re less beastly than we used to be because we disapprove of beastliness more than we used to.
Dawkins is fascinated by the way today’s transgressions might have been viewed differently not long ago. For instance, as a junior academic he went to the University of California at Berkeley for two years in the late Sixties, which gave him a ringside seat at the Summer of Love. He relates one vivid memory in his new memoir, An Appetite for Wonder:
“I was walking along Telegraph Avenue, axis of Berkeley’s beads-incense-and-marijuana culture. A young man was walking ahead of me, dressed in the insignia of the flower-power generation. Every time a young woman passed him, walking in the opposite direction, he would reach out and tweak one of her breasts. Far from slapping him, or crying, ‘Harassment!’, she would simply walk on by as if nothing had happened… Today I find this almost impossible to believe.”
He says he’s pleased how things have changed on the harassment front in the past 40 years. But on other occasions when that shifting moral zeitgeist rears its head – as boys, including him, are molested or beaten at his various boarding schools, for instance – he fails to be outraged. One master at his public school, Oundle, he writes, “was prone to fall in love with the prettier boys. He never, as far as we knew, went any further than to put an arm around them in class and make suggestive remarks, but nowadays that would probably be enough to land him in terrible trouble with the police – and tabloid-inflamed vigilantes.”
Is he guilty of rationalising bad stuff just because it’s past? “I am very conscious that you can’t condemn people of an earlier era by the standards of ours. Just as we don’t look back at the 18th and 19th centuries and condemn people for racism in the same way as we would condemn a modern person for racism, I look back a few decades to my childhood and see things like caning, like mild paedophilia, and can’t find it in me to condemn it by the same standards as I or anyone would today.”
The mention of paedophilia inevitably brings us to the recent run of arrests of old white men accused of child sex abuse, starting with Jimmy Savile. Has the moral zeitgeist been shifting at their expense? “I think we should acknowledge it. That’s one point… But the other point is that because the most notorious cases of paedophilia involve rape and even murder, and because we attach the label ‘paedophilia’ to the same things when they’re just mild touching up, we must beware of lumping all paedophiles into the same bracket.”
So is there a risk of a metaphorical lynching of well-known people as soon as they’re accused? “I think there is a risk of that.”
What about the child sex abuse scandals that have led to anguished soul-searching and multibillion-dollar payouts in various outposts of Christianity? “Same thing,” he says. “Although I’m no friend of the Church, I think they have become victims of our shifting standards and we do need to apply the conventions of the good historian in dealing with cases which are many decades old.”
In the book, Dawkins mentions one occasion when a teacher put a hand down his trousers at a prep school in Salisbury, and four others at Oundle, when he “had to fend off nocturnal visits to my bed from senior boys much larger and stronger than I was”. The Oundle incidents don’t seem to have bothered him. The prep school one did, but he still can’t bring himself to condemn it, partly because the kind of comparison his adult mind deploys is with the mass murders carried out by Genghis Khan in the 12th century. “Without condoning what was done, at least try to put on the goggles of the period and see it through those eyes,” he says. “I find it much harder to put on those goggles where we’re talking about the monstrous cruelty that went on in past times. It’s hard to think of that and to forgive using modern standards in the same way as it might be for the schoolmaster who touched me up but didn’t actually do me any physical violence.”
It was a rare dark moment in a rather special childhood. His earliest years were spent in rugged bliss in southern Africa, where his father was a colonial servant. The trauma of moving to England in a converted troop ship and living with grandparents who forced him to say, “Good morning,” at breakfast briefly gave him a stammer. At 13 he became “intensely religious” and was confirmed into the Church of England. At 17, having learnt about other religions, he became “militantly anti-religious”, and has been ever since.
He was shy but pretty. Hence the unwanted advances at Oundle. Hence, too, a long delay before properly discovering girls, but when that happened it happened in style. “I didn’t finally lose my virginity until much later [aged 22],” he writes, “to a sweet cellist in London, who removed her skirt in order to play to me in her bedsitter (you can’t play the cello in a tight skirt) – and then removed everything else.”
The book is charming, and full of careful translations of phrases such as “public school” for American readers. Is it, then, a charm offensive aimed at those he may have offended down the years? He admits the thought occurred to him, but only once he’d finished it. At this point another thought occurred to him: “Hey! Wait a minute! Maybe I’m not so strident and shrill as people thought I was.”
In his back garden, he isn’t strident or shrill at all, but then he doesn’t have to be. It wasn’t the same when he used to tour the world doing live public debates with creationists, whom he found had to be demolished without mercy if the audience was to be prevented from getting the impression they were witnessing a genuine argument. Nor can he seem to avoid stridency on Twitter (795,000 followers in three months) or in panel discussions. In one such talk, which has been viewed more than a quarter of a million times on YouTube, Neil deGrasse Tyson, a distinguished American astrophysicist, wondered if Dawkins’ “articulately barbed” attacks on superstition in all its forms was not sometimes counterproductive. Dawkins replied with an approving homage to a former editor of New Scientist who once told an interviewer, “Our philosophy is this: science is interesting, and if you don’t agree you can f*** off.”
The only time he gets remotely worked up with The Times is when asked for his response to a suggestion by Professor Higgs that he, Dawkins, is “almost a fundamentalist”. Higgs (who probably will get a Nobel now that CERN has discovered his boson) made the remark to a Spanish newspaper last December. Dawkins is naturally aware of this.
“[Higgs] is obviously a great physicist and I admire him very much,” he says. You sense a “but” coming. Instead he muses that “it’s very easy to be goaded into calling somebody a fundamentalist,” especially when you may not have read that person’s books. Not that there would be any reason for Higgs to have read any of his books; merely that “It’s almost part of the folklore that I’m an extremist fundamentalist, and people who’ve actually met me or read my books tend not to say that.”
Perhaps the criticism is more that Dawkins seems to feel a compulsion to change believers’ minds. Why not leave people to believe what they want to believe? “Well, of course they can believe what they want to believe! They just don’t have to read my books, that’s all.”
Dawkins’ beef with religion is well known; the degrees of contempt he feels for different creeds and religious ideas are less so. Nowadays, creationists elicit weary despair from him at best. He no longer holds debates with them, on the advice of the late Stephen Jay Gould, another mass-market evolutionary biologist. “The moment you accept their invitation, they’ve won,” he recalls Gould telling him, “because that’s what they want, the oxygen of respectability, to be seen on a platform with a real scientist.” He points out that for similar reasons a gynaecologist probably wouldn’t hold a debate with a believer in the stork theory of reproduction.
The Church of England gets off lightly. It was the C of E that embraced him during his adolescent religious crush; the C of E whose hymns he sang as a choirboy until his voice broke; and the C of E whose former senior primate, Archbishop Rowan Williams, he has met several times and cannot bring himself to diss. On the contrary, he says, “I think he’s a lovely man, extremely kind, intelligent and nice. I’m just baffled by his entire belief system.”
The Old Testament, to Dawkins, is just as baffling, only worse, and herein lies a problem for Dawkins’ relations with those who hold it dear. Chapter Two of The God Delusion, his biggest volume of religion-bashing, begins: “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all of fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser,” and goes on in that vein. Last year Lord Sacks, still Chief Rabbi at the time, called the passage “profoundly anti-Semitic”. Dawkins stood by it but said it was basically a joke. Lord Sacks still didn’t get it.
Now Dawkins says of Sacks: “He’s such a nice man that I don’t want to hurl brickbats at him, but he seemed to say that because I had attacked God, that was anti-Semitic, as though God’s a Jew. And I’ve had that from other Jews as well.” To the complaint that Dawkins singles out the God of the Old Testament for harsher treatment than the God of the New Testament, he replies brightly: “That’s right, and the God of the Old Testament is nastier than the God of the New Testament. It’s one of the things that Christians never tire of telling us.”
Isn’t this therefore a “Christian atheist” as opposed to a “Jewish atheist” view, as Sacks complained? “There’s probably something in that, yes… My C of E upbringing probably does show through.”
And that, dear reader, is a rare concession from Oxford’s former Professor for the Public Understanding of Science. He then comes close to making another on the subject of Mormons, whose scripture he says at first is “recent nonsense and therefore somehow more reprehensible than that which has a certain amount of age”. But what does the age of nonsense have to do with its reprehensibility? That sounds rum. “It does, doesn’t it?” he mutters, but it doesn’t make much difference.
Soon he’s off again, repeating an argument that he made often during last year’s White House run by the Mormon Mitt Romney, that the founder of Mormonism was a “19th-century charlatan” and that anyone who believed him was a fool. As for Dawkins on Islam, the tweet on Nobel prizes gives you the flavour of his more printable views.
He is friendly with that other big-tweeting humanist, Stephen Fry, and was close to Christopher Hitchens, speaking through tears at his funeral. He has recently been called “the worst kind of zealot” by the American Muslim academic Reza Aslan; and a case study in how not to talk about religion, by Daniel Trilling, the editor of New Humanist.
You wouldn’t know any of this from his autobiography; nor does he seem like a zealot across the corner of his picnic table. Maybe this is because he’s not being goaded. He’s patient and, on the whole, obliging. Does he have any advice for Prince George? “Think for yourself. Reach your own conclusions by looking at the evidence.” He adds: “If you end up being an atheist, that would be very interesting for the Church of England.”
Would he care to explain how he came to be married three times? He would not. He will reveal that his one daughter, Juliet, is a doctor in Cambridge, but he won’t talk about his first wife, Marian Stamp, who went with him to Berkeley and is Professor of Animal Behaviour at Oxford; nor his second, Eve Barham, Juliet’s mother, from whom he divorced acrimoniously in 1999; nor his third, the writer and actress Lalla Ward, formerly married to Tom “Dr Who” Baker, whom he met through their mutual friend Douglas Adams, cult hero and creator ofThe Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
Last year he took an expensive trip to the Antarctic, but otherwise he can’t remember taking a holiday at all. He has been a publishing phenomenon ever since producing The Selfish Gene in 1976, aged 35, popularizing the idea that our bodies are mere “survival machines” for our genes.
Since then the honorary doctorates have been piling up, and, with them, one recurring regret: “I wasted my time at school,” he says. “I envy my teenage self the opportunities he had and didn’t take advantage of, and sort of think, ‘You little idiot, why didn’t you pay more attention and join the astronomy club?’”
What could he have done that he hasn’t?
“I could know a lot more mathematics than I do. I could be a lot better linguist than I am. I could have read a lot more books than I have.”
The author of The Selfish Gene has been called a selfish genius, and even a source of theoretical underpinning for Thatcherism. That idea is nonsense – it’s genes that are quintessentially selfish, as he has shown, not humans. Even so, it may be significant that if there is an inner void, he wishes he had filled it with self-improvement rather than good works.
Not that he’s done yet. A blood pressure cuff and pill dispenser in his office indicate that he takes seriously the maintenance of his genes’ survival machine. He has volume two of the autobiography to write, and may get round to writing a letter to those Nobel people on behalf of those he most admires.
But you know how that would be reported, I say. “Britain’s greatest living science writer in desperate bid…” That sort of thing.
“Ah, well.” He sighs. “I am actually more humble than I’m sometimes given credit for.” And a bit less worldly, too.
‘I didn’t lift a finger to stop the grotesque bullying’
Much of the apparent bullying [at Chafyn Grove prep school] was pure braggadocio, futile threats whose emptiness was attested by their invocation of an indefinite future: ‘“Right! That does it. I’m putting you on my beating-up list” was about as nebulous a threat as “You’ll go to hell when you die” (though, alas, not everybody treats the latter threat as nebulous).
But there was real bullying too, the especially unkind form of bullying where gangs of sycophantic henchmen rally around a bullying leader, courting his approval. [The victim] was a precociously brilliant scholar, large, clumsy and ungainly, with an unharmonious, prematurely breaking voice and few friends. He was an unfortunate misfit, an ugly duckling doubtless destined for swanhood, who should have aroused compassion, and would have done in any decent environment – but not in the Goldingesque jungle of the playground. There was even a gang bearing his name, the “anti- –––– gang”, the sole purpose of which was to make his life a misery. Yet his only crime was to be awkward and gangling, too uncoordinated to catch a ball, unable to run except with a graceless staggering gait – and very, very clever.
I cannot even begin to imagine how human beings could be so cruel, but to a greater or lesser extent we were, if only through failing to stop it. How could we be so devoid of empathy? I didn’t lift a finger to stop the grotesque bullying. I think this was partly due to a desire to remain popular with dominant and popular individuals. It is a hallmark of the successful bully to have a posse of loyal lieutenants, and again we see this brutally manifested in the verbal cruelty and bullying that has become epidemic on internet forums, where the abusers have the additional protection of anonymity. But I don’t recall feeling even secret pity for the victim of the bullying at Chafyn Grove.
How is that possible? These contradictions trouble me to this day, together with a strong feeling of retrospective guilt. I am struggling to reconcile the child with the adult that he became; and the same struggle, I suspect, arises with most people. This is no place for a philosophical disquisition, so I will content myself with the observation that continuity of memory makes me feel as though my identity has remained continuous during my whole life, while I simultaneously feel incredulous that I am the same person as the young empathy-failure.
I was also a games-failure, but the school had a squash court and I became obsessed with squash. I didn’t really enjoy trying to win against an opponent. I just liked knocking the ball against the wall by myself, seeing how long I could keep going. I had squash withdrawal symptoms during the school holidays – missed the echoing sound as ball hit wall, and the smell of black rubber – and I kept dreaming of ways in which I might improvise a squash court somewhere on the farm, perhaps in a deserted pig sty.
Back at Chafyn Grove I would watch games of squash from the gallery, waiting for the game to end so I could slip down and practise by myself. One day – I must have been about 11 – there was a master in the gallery with me. He pulled me onto his knee and put his hand inside my shorts. He did no more than have a little feel, but it was extremely disagreeable (the cremasteric reflex is not painful, but in a skin-crawling, creepy way it is almost worse than painful) as well as embarrassing. As soon as I could wriggle off his lap, I ran to tell my friends, many of whom had had the same experience with him. I don’t think he did any of us any lasting damage, but some years later he killed himself. The atmosphere at morning prayers told us that something was up even before [the headmaster] Gallows made his grim announcement, and one of the woman teachers was crying. Many years later in Oxford, a large bishop sat next to me at high table in New College. I recognised his name. He had been the (ah me, much smaller then) curate at St Mark’s church, to which Chafyn Grove marched in crocodile for matins every Sunday, and he was evidently in touch with the gossip. He told me that the same woman teacher had been hopelessly in love with the paedophile master who had killed himself. None of us had ever guessed.
© Richard Dawkins 2013. Extracted from An Appetite for Wonder, published by Bantam Press on September 12 and available from theTimes Bookshop for £15.95 (RRP £20), free p&p, on 0845 2712134;thetimes.co.uk/bookshop
Image: Richard Dawkins and his dog Cuba, photographed at his home in Oxford last month. Credit: Robert Wilson
via RDFRS; The Times (Giles Whittell)
Teaching Evolution or Creationism, Academic Responsibility vs Personal Freedoms
The debate gauntlet thrown down by Houston Atheists was spurned by Ken Ham of answersingenesis. He went on to advocate creationism at the Texas Homeschool Coalition conference to about 600 people in his audience. The conference in general drew 6,000 attendees. During his speech, I am told he mocked me again for saying he’s an ape. While he was doing that, we were outside roasting in 107° heat demonstrating to passer-bys that they should teach their children actual science. Ham scoffed at us, and bragged about how many people came to hear him. It still doesn’t make him right no matter how many people he fools. The next day, Aron and I spoke to about 250 attendees at The Houston Museum of Natural Science. I jokingly threw down another gauntlet to prove a point. I challenged Ham to an arm wrestling contest with Aron to decide what gets taught, Evolution or Creationism. Only that isn’t the way science works either. Back to scientific testing and peer review, facts, and evidence for Ham. Creationism rejected!
via Th3 N0nes.
Related: Great series on Ken Ham’s ridiculousness toward Bill Nye on Evolution, Creationism and overall bad science. For further elaboration on this, Lawrence Krauss speaks on this in an interview HERE.
Study found ‘a reliable negative relation between intelligence and religiosity’ in 53 out of 63 studies
A new review of 63 scientific studies stretching back over decades has concluded that religious people are less intelligent than non-believers.
A piece of University of Rochester analysis, led by Professor Miron Zuckerman, found “a reliable negative relation between intelligence and religiosity” in 53 out of 63 studies.
According to the study entitled, ‘The Relation Between Intelligence and Religiosity: A Meta-Analysis and Some Proposed Explanations’, published in the ‘Personality and Social Psychology Review’, even during early years the more intelligent a child is the more likely it would be to turn away from religion.
In old age above average intelligence people are less likely to believe, the researchers also found.
One of the studies used in Zuckerman’s paper was a life-long analysis of the beliefs of 1,500 gifted children with with IQs over 135.
The study began in 1921 and continues today. Even in extreme old age the subjects had much lower levels of religious belief than the average population.
The review, which is the first systematic meta-analysis of the 63 studies conducted in between 1928 and 2012, showed that of the 63 studies, 53 showed a negative correlation between intelligence and religiosity, while 10 showed a positive one.
Only two studies showed significant positive correlations and significant negative correlations were seen in a total of 35 studies.
The authors of the review looked at each study independently, taking into account the quality of data collection, the size of the sample and the analysis methods used.
The three psychologists carrying out the review defined intelligence as the “ability to reason, plan, solve problems, think abstractly, comprehend complex ideas, learn quickly, and learn from experience”.
Religiosity is defined by the psychologists as involvement in some (or all) facets of religion.
According to the review, other factors - such as gender or education - did not make any difference to the correlation between intelligence and religious belief.
The level of belief, or otherwise, did however vary dependent upon age with the correlation found to be weakest among the pre-college population.
The paper concludes that: “Most extant explanations (of a negative relation) share one central theme —the premise that religious beliefs are irrational, not anchored in science, not testable and, therefore, unappealing to intelligent people who ‘know better’.”
Criticisms of the conclusions include that the paper only deals with a definition of analytic intelligence and fails to consider newly identified forms of creative and emotional intelligence.
The psychologists who carried out the review also sought to pre-empt the secularist interpretation of the findings by suggesting that more intelligent people are less likely to have religious beliefs as they associate themselves with ideas around personal control.
"Intelligent people typically spend more time in school - a form of self-regulation that may yield long-term benefits," the researchers wrote.
"More intelligent people get higher level jobs (and better employment (and higher salary) may lead to higher self-esteem, and encourage personal control beliefs."