Questionable Motives

April 4, 2012

What is Evidence Based Education?

Filed under: Education,Project,Psychology,public domain — tildeb @ 7:56 pm

Donovanable of Pervasive Goodness has started a worthwhile project and we need to get the word out. As she writes,

Are you a prospective undergrad or graduate student, looking for a psychology program that’s rigorous and will train you to do the most good? A program that will teach evidence-based therapy, and teach you to understand current research in psychology?

The site she has started is called Evidence Based Education. Tired of the bullshit woo that seems to infect so many of her psych courses and textbooks, she has decided to do something about it and create a database by means of anecdotal evidence which schools offer the best value of evidence based courses for the tuition money. The more people that hear of this and spread the word, the greater the depth and usefulness of the database. So click on over, give a bit of love and say hihowRU, and let’s promote evidence based education wherever it may be found.


February 22, 2010

Religion vs Secularism: are religious beliefs correlated to higher levels of social dysfunction?

Filed under: belief,Psychology,Religion,Science,Secularism,Society — tildeb @ 3:38 pm

Apparently so. And this evidence stands in stark contrast to the oft repeated assertion that religious belief has a net social benefit. It does not. It correlates strongly with social dysfunction.

Abstract from Gregory Paul:

Better understanding the nature, origin and popularity of varying levels of popular religion versus secularism, and their impact upon socioeconomic conditions and vice versa, requires a cross national comparison of the competing factors in populations where opinions are freely chosen. Utilizing 25 indicators, the uniquely extensive Successful Societies Scale reveals that population diversity and immigration correlate weakly with 1st world  socioeconomic conditions, and high levels of income disparity, popular religiosity as measured by differing levels of belief and activity, and rejection of evolutionary science correlate strongly negatively with improving conditions. The historically unprecedented socioeconomic security that results from low levels of progressive government policies appear to suppress popular religiosity and creationist opinion, conservative religious ideology apparently contributes to societal dysfunction, and religious prosociality and charity are less effective at improving societal conditions than are secular government programs. The antagonistic relationship between better socioeconomic conditions and intense popular faith may prevent the existence of nations that combine the two factors. The nonuniversality of strong religious devotion, and the ease with which large populations abandon serious theism when conditions are sufficiently benign, refute hypotheses that religious belief and practice are the normal, deeply set human mental state, whether they are superficial or natural in nature. Instead popular religion is usually a superficial and flexible psychological mechanism for coping with the high levels of stress and anxiety produced by sufficiently dysfunctional social and especially economic environments. Popular nontheism is a similarly casual response to superior conditions.

Video report from MSNBC

When evidence of similar strength correlates smoking with cancer, anti-smoking educational campaigns are launched along with new and prohibitive laws to curtail access by the most vulnerable, namely, our children. Very reasonable, in my opinion.

When evidence of similar strength correlates the emissions of greenhouse gases with rising global temperatures, summits are called, reduction targets set, and there is a groundswell of public support to ‘green’ our industries and reduce emissions. Very reasonable, in my opinion.

Can we expect to see a similarly reasonable and widespread response against religious indoctrination of our children?

Yeah, that’s what I thought, which raises a very important question:

If not, why not?

February 14, 2010

How might we determine if morality precedes religious belief?

Ilkka Pyysiäinen and Marc Hauser have co-written an interesting paper The Origins of Religion: Evolved adaptation or by-product? Jerry Coyne has a good commentary over at WEIT and raises an interesting objection by Phillip Ball that suggests a culture steeped in religious morality may present it even by people who do not subscribe to the religion itself. Jerry has posted a response to that objection from Ilkka:

As far as we are dealing with people’s intuitive judgments, it is impossible to attribute these to learned religious views. People just do not respond in accordance with religious doctrines when they have no clue about how learned religious doctrines should be applied. I think Marc’s research shows that religious doctrines can only have an effect on especially salient topics such as abortion. When religious commitments differ and people yet produce quite similar judgments, this shows that religious commitments do not have causal power with regard to moral judgment. If religious people make moral judgments similar to those of nonreligious people, then there is no reason to suppose that religion is the driving force. This means that *explicit* religious commitment is not relevant. But, as you suggest, it might still be that religion affects explicitly nonreligious people’s judgments in an implicit way. However, this, then, means that explicit religious commitment is not the crucial factor.

Try the Moral Sense Test for yourself. You won’t come across typical moral issues commonly attributed to religious teachings but it will get you wondering why you answer the way you do.

January 30, 2010

Does research back up the popular belief that children need both a mother and a father?

“The bottom line is that the science shows that children raised by two same-gender parents do as well on average as children raised by two different-gender parents. This is obviously inconsistent with the widespread claim that children must be raised by a mother and a father to do well,” Biblarz said.

Stacey concluded: “The family type that is best for children is one that has responsible, committed, stable parenting. Two parents are, on average, better than one, but one really good parent is better than two not-so-good ones. The gender of parents only matters in ways that don’t matter.”

This study is published in the February 2010 issue of the Journal of Marriage and Family.

From ScienceDaily here.

December 12, 2009

Is religious belief beneficial to societies?

Filed under: Human Development,Morality,Psychology,Religion,Science,Society — tildeb @ 2:45 pm

Is religious belief beneficial to societies? Does religion make people behave better?

Many believers assume, without question, that it does – even that there can be no morality without religion. They cite George Washington who believed that national morality could not prevail without religions principles, or Dostoevsky’s famous claim (actually words of his fictional character Ivan Karamazov) that “without God all things are permitted”. Then there are Americans defending their country’s peculiarly high levels of popular religious belief and claiming that faith-based charity is better than universal government provision.

Atheists, naturalists and humanists fight back claiming that it’s perfectly possible to be moral without God. Evolutionary psychology reveals the common morality of our species, and the universal values of fairness, kindness, and reciprocity.

So who is right?

The 1st world nations with the highest levels of belief in God, and the greatest religious observance are also the ones with all the signs of societal dysfunction. These correlations are truly stunning.

Read Sue Blackmore’s commentary here about Gregory Paul’s research paper here.

December 11, 2009

What’s up with women and salads?

Filed under: Culture,Medicine,Psychology,Science,Society — tildeb @ 1:52 pm

Researchers at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, observed 469 individuals in 266 groups at three cafeterias on campus. Sitting at a distance of at least 10 meters (damn Canadians and their metric system), the researchers watched these people in a natural setting and recorded how many people were sitting at each table, of what gender the people were, and estimated the caloric content of what each one was eating.

The findings were pretty clear:

1) Females chose foods with significantly fewer calories when eating with men rather than women. (Note to Jezebel: word “female” is in the study!)

2) Women’s food choices weren’t affected just by a man being present, but in proportion to how many men were present — more men equaled fewer calories. (More women being present had the opposite effect on women’s calorie consumption.)

3) Neither the size of the group nor the gender make-up seemed much to affect males’ food choices.

Read the rest of article and the study’s findings here.

December 9, 2009

Does morality come from religion?


Based on the responses of thousands of participants to more than 100 dilemmas, we find no difference between men and women, young and old, theistic believers and non-believers, liberals and conservatives. When it comes to judging unfamiliar moral scenarios, your cultural background is virtually irrelevant.

What guides your judgments is the universal and unconscious voice of our species, a biological code, a universal moral grammar. We tend to see actions as worse than omissions of actions: pushing a person into the factory vent is worse than allowing the person to fall in. Using someone as a means to some greater good is worse if you make this one person worse off than if you don’t. This is the difference between an evitable and inevitable harm. If the person in the hospital or in the factory is perfectly healthy, taking his life to save the lives of many is worse than if he is dying and there is no cure. Distinctions such as these are abstract, impartial and emotionally cold. They are like recognising the identity relationship of 1=1, a rule that is abstract and content-free.

If this code is universal and impartial, then why are there are so many moral atrocities in the world? The answer comes from thinking about our emotions, the feelings we recruit to fuel in-group favouritism, out-group hatred and, ultimately, dehumanisation.

December 7, 2009

Is religious belief part of our biology?

The nonuniversality of strong religious devotion, and the ease with large populations abandon serious theism when conditions are sufficiently benign, refute hypotheses that religious belief and practice are the normal, deeply set human mental state, whether they are superficial or natural in nature. Instead popular religion is usually a superficial and flexible psychological mechanism for coping with the high levels of stress and anxiety produced by sufficiently dysfunctional social and especially economic environments. Popular nontheism is a similarly casual response to superior conditions.

From the evolutionary psychology paper here.

December 3, 2009

Should atheists be more humble?

From WEIT comes this answer:

Atheists have been “humble” for centuries (who was more humble than Spinoza?) and it hasn’t gotten us anywhere. It’s that crop of new atheist books that have finally created a climate in which atheists need not feel like pariahs. Like my confrères so maligned by Kristof, I think it’s time to try Mencken’s way:

The way to deal with superstition is not to be polite to it, but to tackle it with all arms, and so rout it, cripple it, and make it forever infamous and ridiculous. Is it, perchance, cherished by persons who should know better? Then their folly should be brought out into the light of day, and exhibited there in all its hideousness until they flee from it, hiding their heads in shame.

True enough, even a superstitious man has certain inalienable rights. He has a right to harbor and indulge his imbecilities as long as he pleases, provided only he does not try to inflict them upon other men by force. He has a right to argue for them as eloquently as he can, in season and out of season. He has a right to teach them to his children. But certainly he has no right to be protected against the free criticism of those who do not hold them. He has no right to demand that they be treated as sacred. He has no right to preach them without challenge.

December 2, 2009

What constitutes reasoning?

Feelings, intuition, and insight are part of our evolutionary endowment–functions of the brain that helped our ancestors survive. They are problematic only when we rely too much on them. Demagogues like Hitler manipulate people through emotional appeals. Intuition can mislead when, for instance, it tells us that just as watches and skyscrapers are the product of intelligent design, the origin of the species might follow the same pattern. For every insight that inspires a work of genius, there are others that are simply mistaken. When experienced as revelations, faulty insights can be the seed from which dogmatic religions grow.

This is where critical thinking is essential. We shouldn’t ignore emotions, intuitions and insights, but we should evaluate them critically when possible. The problem with the faithful is not that they make use of the non-logical powers of the brain, but that they fail to filter them through critical thinking.

From an article at New Humanism here.

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