Category Archives: religion

More religious individuals are less likely to have pets — especially cats

Scientific evidence has emerged suggesting that religion has a significant influence on pet ownership. Specifically, those who practice religion are less likely to own pets and especially less likely to own a cat. These findings come from a study published in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion.

Read more at PsyPost

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Posted by on April 6, 2020 in cognitive science, religion


How do pandemics change the way we think?

When dealing with an absence of real knowledge about diseases, people tend to consult with their social circles in what psychologists call ‘social learning’, since the potential cost for trial-and-error or individual learning is high (or fatal). A greater conformity to group behavior and appeal to social obligation are perceived to be effective disease-avoidance strategies. One study showed that students who experienced higher perceived vulnerability to disease wound up conforming more to the majority view when evaluating abstract art drawings and self-rating as more conforming on questionnaires. In contrast, individualism, which is characterized by greater tolerance and even encouragement of deviation from the status quo, might not be an adaptive trait during periods of pandemic duress. So even for a freedom-loving society like the United State, viral outbreaks can make the population malleable to submitting to government authority and complying with social norms such as the newly-issued diktats to practice social distancing and adhere to strict hygiene standards.

Read more: How do pandemics change the way we think?

Also check out A Link Between Pathogen Avoidance And Religion?

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Posted by on March 12, 2020 in cognitive science, religion


People Who See God As A White Man Tend To Prefer White Men For Leadership Positions

When you picture God, who do you see: a young black woman, or an old white man? Chances are it’s the latter — and a new study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology suggests that that image has its consequences.

Read more at BPS Research Digest

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Posted by on March 4, 2020 in cognitive science, religion


Animated map shows how religion spread around the world

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Posted by on February 29, 2020 in religion


Romulus In The News

This is proof that Romulus really did ascend to heaven!

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Posted by on February 19, 2020 in religion


Conjunction Fallacies Abound

I’ve ranted about the conjunction fallacy before. Help me out, Wikipedia!

Linda is 31 years old, single, outspoken, and very bright. She majored in philosophy. As a student, she was deeply concerned with issues of discrimination and social justice, and also participated in anti-nuclear demonstrations.

Which is more probable?

1. Linda is a bank teller.
2. Linda is a bank teller and is active in the feminist movement.

The majority of those asked chose option 2. However, the probability of two events occurring together (in “conjunction”) is always less than or equal to the probability of either one occurring alone—formally, for two events A and B this inequality could be written as Pr(A & B) < Pr(A) and Pr(A & B) < Pr(B).

For example, even choosing a very low probability of Linda being a bank teller, say Pr(Linda is a bank teller) = 0.05 and a high probability that she would be a feminist, say Pr(Linda is a feminist) = 0.95, then, assuming independence, Pr(Linda is a bank teller and Linda is a feminist) = 0.05 × 0.95 or 0.0475, lower than Pr(Linda is a bank teller).

Tversky and Kahneman argue that most people get this problem wrong because they use a heuristic (an easily calculated) procedure called representativeness to make this kind of judgment: Option 2 seems more “representative” of Linda based on the description of her, even though it is clearly mathematically less likely.

In other words, the representativeness bias (System 1) is making people answer when people should be using math (System 2).

There are a bunch of other instances of this:

Which is more probable?

1. God exists

2. God exists and cares about you

Which is more probable?

1. Jesus was crucified

2. Jesus was crucified and had twelve disciples

Which is more probable?

1. Organ A is responsible for the disease

2. Protein G in Organ A is responsible for the disease

Which is more probable?

1. Men assault/kill most people because men are violent

2. Men assault/kill women specifically due to misogyny

Remember what causes bias: We are biased because we use our moral intuitions to decide on something before using our more analytical brain, and we only use our analytical brain to defend our moral intuitions.

Chances are high that if some answer that should be a basic math problem upsets you, then you are defending your biases.

Take the last conjunction fallacy, that men assault women specifically due to misogyny. Already we are asserting a moral issue (misogyny) as the causal agent. Bias is already being prompted. But if men assault more people period due to men being more violent than women, there’s no need to introduce an additional factor when men assault women. Of course if men assault more people than women, the subset of people includes women. Hence the conjunction.

Now if it turned out that men assaulted/killed women more than men, an additional explanatory factor might be needed. This is not the case though.

Anytime you see an issue where the subset is being presented as more probable than its superset, you’re probably dealing with a conjunction fallacy. Indeed, if you want to nip this bias in the bud, always think about the possible supersets and their likelihoods.

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Posted by on January 5, 2020 in cognitive science, religion


Truth vs Morality II

A few years ago I made a post titled “Truth vs. Morality; Rationality vs Intuition“. In that post I put forward the idea that there are certain things — empirical claims — that people dismiss because of the unfavorable moral implications.

I encountered this so many times in debates with religious people that I assumed that it was a particular failing of the religious. All of us former religious people have encountered the following logic:

If god doesn’t exist, what’s stopping an atheist from murdering bystanders and raping children?

Religious people don’t realize that this is quite the self-own: They are so depraved and morally bankrupt that the only thing that’s stopping them from raping children is belief in god. Eliezer Yudkowsky refutes this pretty soundly in my opinion by substituting “murder” with something more mundane like “going to the bathroom after midnight”: If god doesn’t exist, what’s stopping atheist from going to the bathroom after midnight? Checkmate, atheists!

The substitution demonstrates that an extra, hidden premise is smuggled in to give the original formulation its weight.

Unfortunately, religion isn’t some aberration of human behavior. The physical-to-moral sleights of hand that religious people perform aren’t limited to them, many other non-religious people do them as well. Religion is just a subset of moral intuitions. As such, there are many other empirical claims that are dismissed on secular morality grounds, and lead to the same sorts of self-owns.

Can you think of any? I brought some up in that previous post.

The larger point in both this post and the previous, is that human worth should be orthogonal to most — if not all — empirical claims. If god doesn’t exist this should have no bearing on the value of human life. But to even get to this step, people have to understand that the existence of god is an empirical claim and not a moral one. That is a hard ask.

And to my non-religious readers, you don’t get away either! You suffer from the same inability to divorce the physical from the moral that the religious do. And as such, you will inadvertently self-own in the same way religious people do. How depraved and morally destitute are you by your own admission?

Or to put it in a phrasing you might be familiar with (and leads to the moral self-own), does not believing in [XYZ] empirical or physical claim make you racist/sexist/homophobic/transphobic? Are you saying that the only thing that holds you back from being a putrid mire of racism/sexism/homophobia/transphobia is believing in [XYZ] claim?

Now, I actually don’t think religious people suffer from an abject poverty of moral purchase due to the implications of this particular anti-atheist argument. When a religious person hears “I don’t believe in god” it gets translated by their subconscious as “I don’t think morality exists”. The primacy of social or moral rules over the physical is a bias we all have. Meaning that the same translation happens for other physical claims besides the existence of god in non-religious domains: When presented with a question/claim that can have a moral/social answer/interpretation XOR a physical answer/interpretation, we tend to answer with the moral/social answer/interpretation.

But when you interpret a physical claim as a moral/social claim, you logically paint yourself into a moral corner. You imply that you would kill innocent people/rape children/be racist/sexist/homophobic/transphobic, and the only thing holding you back is the existence of god/[XYZ] claim.

To drive this point home, I’ll end this post with the most egregious example of the human tendency to supplant the social/moral over the physical — besides the existence of god — in the current zeitgeist:

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Posted by on November 7, 2019 in cognitive science, economics/sociology, morality, religion

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