Archive for the ‘News’ Category

Science vs religion: the effect of education

Wed Jun 01, 2011 9:02 am by Aught3

A new sociological study of UCLA undergraduate students has been getting some play in the sceptical blogosphere. Since it relates to some previous blog posts I have written on the LoR I thought I would go through it. Basically, a UCLA organisation called the Spirituality in Higher Education Project (SHEP)1 surveyed the religious opinions of the first-year population on campus. They then followed up with another survey of juniors to identify opinions influenced by several years of higher eduction. The study in question (Scheitle, 2011) focuses on the students’ perception of the relationship between religion and science.

Students could choose between four options to describe their view on this relationship.

  1. Conflict – I consider myself on the side of religion
  2. Conflict – I consider myself on the side of science
  3. Independence – they refer to different aspects of reality
  4. Collaboration – each can be used to help support the other

Categories three and four were lumped together into a ‘non-conflict’ answer.

Of this sample 83% of the students were religious. Unsurprisingly then, this means that 86% of the respondents went with non-conflict (69%) or sided with religion (17%). That leaves 17% non-religious students, 14% of whom sided exclusively with science. Given the large proportion of Christians in the US and that most are not of the fundamental variety, meaning they will have their science and eat it too, this seems a fairly straight-forward result.

Interestingly by their junior year, 73% of those who had originally sided with religion had come to adopt a non-conflict or pro-science position. This shift perhaps reflects the secularising effect of education. However, 47% of those who had originally picked science had also shifted their position. Not as large of a percentage of those who changed from a pro-religion stand-point but a substantial proportion of students. Even when the researcher looked into the data for only science students, the moderating effect of education was still present. Apparently, learning more about science decreased the view that science and religion were in conflict.

What I would have liked to be able to look at is the detailed data for both the independence and collaboration viewpoints instead of having them lumped together in a single category. If it’s correct that more education promotes a more secular viewpoint I would expect to see the ‘independence’ category increase. Whereas if education was actually supporting religion, I would expect to see a growth in the number of students picking ‘collaboration’. With the data in their current form, it’s impossible to make such judgements.


  1. SHEP is funded by the Templeton foundation; any true sceptics will now hum the Jaws theme.

Scheitle, C. P. (2011) U.S. College Students’ Perception of Religion and Science: Conflict, Collaboration, or Independence? A Research Note. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 50(1), 175-186.

Hey if everyone is doing it then why not?

Wed Dec 29, 2010 2:27 am by rabbitpirate

As I am sure you have already heard the Pope has once again been offering up reasons why the sexual abuse of children by an alarmingly large number of Catholic priests isn’t all that bad after all. This time he has gone for the “Well they did it first” defence.


In his Christmas speech the Pope addressed the subject of child abuse by saying that “In the 1970s, paedophilia was theorised as something fully in conformity with man and even with children”. Yup, apparently in the 1970 everyone was just fine and dandy with the sexual abuse of children and so the Catholic Church, I’m guessing in an attempt to try and seem relevant and keep with the times, decided to start abusing children as well. See, it is all the secular worlds fault, they did it first, the Catholic Church was just going with the crowd. Seriously Catholic Church, if the secular world jumped off a bridge would you do it too?



So what else are we meant to use the internet for?

Thu Dec 23, 2010 7:17 pm by rabbitpirate

Firstly let me apologise for not having posted a blog entry in ages. I have simply been stupidly busy and haven’t really had a chance to do any of the things I have wanted to lately. That out of the way I thought I would come back with a bang. Now that they have finished shafting students with a 300% increase in tuition fees the UK Government are aiming to screw us over by changing something that will have a far more penetrating effect upon many of our lives – They want to take our porn away. Well to paraphrase Charlton Heston “From my cold dead, slightly callus, right hand”.



NASA Reveals Discovery of Arsenic-Using Life

Thu Dec 02, 2010 9:47 pm by AndroidAR

NASA has announced the discovery of microbes that can replace phosphorus with arsenic, which is toxic to all other known life forms. It can substitute arsenic for phosphorus in the (normally phosphoric) backbone of its DNA and RNA, in its cell membrane, and even in its ATP (adenosine triphosphate), which is a central energy-carrying molecule in all cells.

NASA’s release:

So, how do you think this will affect the search for life elsewhere? It might not be life on Titan (as some speculated the news release might be about), but it’s still pretty cool.

Forum topic for convenience:

A NYr’s reflections on 9/11

Mon Sep 27, 2010 2:33 am by TheTruePooka

I’ve been asked by AndromedasWake to say a few words on the entire 9/11 Ground Zero debate and give a New Yorker’s perspective. I thought it would be appropriate to wait until time has passed since the Ground Zero anniversary, considering the content of this blog post.

I have lived through a decade of Ground Zero controversy. From the moment the dust settled, individuals and groups with political agendas descended on the wounded carcass of lower Manhattan, cutting out and dishing up great slabs of suffering to serve at the gluttonous feast of their ambitions.

“All of Ground Zero should be declared hallowed ground’, “The memorial in light should remain until the towers are rebuilt’, “it should be called the Freedom Tower’, “THIS tower design is a better memorial than that one’, “A design contest will show the true spirit of American freedom’, “The stairway to heaven can’t be moved, it would be disrespectful!’, “The beams that form a cross cannot be moved, God placed them there!’

It has gone on and on, year after year. (more…)

Read books, don’t burn them

Fri Sep 10, 2010 12:41 pm by rabbitpirate

At this moment it is unclear if the proposed Burn a Koran Day will go ahead or not and I for one really hope it doesn’t. For those of you who have not heard about this the idea was dreamed up by Reverend Terry Jones, a Florida based pastor, as a protest against Islam and a memorial for those who died in the September 11th terrorist attacks of 2001, though obviously not for the Muslim victims. On the Facebook page for this event Reverend Jones has stated the following:


“On September 11th, 2010, from 6pm – 9pm, we will burn the Koran on the property of Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, FL in remembrance of the fallen victims of 9/11 and to stand against the evil of Islam. Islam is of the devil!”


As I write this the latest on this story seems to be that, after stating earlier that the event would be cancelled, Reverend Jones plans to “rethink” the idea after local Muslim leader Imam Muhammad Musri denied that any deal had been struck to move the proposed Park51 community centre away, sorry make that further away, from the Ground Zero site. Jones has stated that on Saturday, the day planned for the Koran burning, he will be travelling to New York to meet with Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf about the proposed location of the centre. However it is unclear if the actual book burning part of his plan is back on or not.


Either way the reason I mention this is in order to draw attention to what I think is by far the best response to this proposed event that I have come across so far. International Read a Book Day. I love this idea, not just because I love reading anyway but because I feel it is exactly the sort of approach that should be taken against something stupid like Burn a Koran Day. It is a reasoned, measured reaction that clearly gets the point across, shows solidarity and respect for people who may believe differently than we do and promotes something constructive. What’s more is that the people behind this are Christians. Yup for once we see moderate Christians standing up against the more fundamental members of their religion. Here’s what Facebook page has to say on the matter:


“In July of this year, the Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Florida announced September 11 this year would be “Burn a Koran Day.” We believe that the burning of a Koran, or any other book, while it may be within the rights of free speech, is a tasteless and disturbing gesture that only communicates contempt and ignorance. Instead, we invite the international community to celebrate “Read a Book Day.” Burning books has never made a society better, but reading them has.”


So this September 11th I will be sitting down to read a book and remembering all those who died on that terrible day nine years ago. Will you join me?

Why Skepticism is important

Fri Sep 03, 2010 4:38 pm by rabbitpirate

So you have probably heard this story already, or if not other stories like it. In Kenya officials are trying to stem a growing panic caused by a rumour that ghostly red numbers are appearing on mobile phones and killing people. Many people in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, have been forwarding this story on to their friends and families via text messages, warning them not to receive calls which will appear in red, resulting in the hysteria spreading to other major towns in the country. These messages read:

“Please don’t attend to any calls from 7888308001, 9316048121, 9876266211, 9888854137 and 9876715587, these numbers come in red colour…you may get brain haemorrhage due to high frequency”


Now this may sound crazy but it is still more believable than the version of this urban legend that popped up in Pakistan in 2007. Here it was claimed that listening to phone calls coming from red numbers would result in men becoming impotent and, get this, woman falling pregnant. Now I am no expert on reproduction but even with my limited knowledge I am pretty sure that’s not how things works. Meanwhile back in Kenya the Communication Commission have been investigating these claims and have put out the statement below, which prompted me to comment on this in the first place.

“Upon analysis of the messages, the Commission has established the warnings are a hoax generated by unscrupulous people bent on causing fear and despondency among members of the public. The listed numbers are non-existent as mobile, fixed or international calls,’


Maybe it is just my years as a battle hardened skeptic but I required no further analysis than reading the title of the article to know that this story was complete horse hockey. I think this just goes to show why skepticism and critical thinking skills are so important. In a world where everyone had a basic understanding of how to apply skeptical thinking to their daily lives things like this would simply never gain traction. This sort of thing, as well as a lot of email driven hoaxes, rely on the credulousness of the people receiving the messages in order to propagate. With something like this I don’t even think you need to have an understanding of the technology used by mobile phones to see that it is bunkum. It just requires taking a few seconds to see if it passes the sniff test.


But maybe my strong reaction to this story come not from the fact that I find it so amazing that people would fall for this, as reality tells us that there are a lot of credulous people out there, but rather because, to my mind at least, it represents something of a failure on our part. I know that we have to choose our battles and that there are a lot more pressing subjects that need our attention. But really things like this always leave me feeling somewhat depressed. Just as I think we are making progress a story like this reminds me just how far we have to go in getting the world to think skeptically.

San Francisco legislators clearly have irradiated brains

Thu Jun 17, 2010 3:23 pm by rabbitpirate

This is a completely unintentional follow on of sorts from my previous post about how non-scientists and the general public are most definitely not the right people to be making decisions of a scientific nature. Now while the subject has nothing to do with synthetic biology this time round I think the underlying feeling of this story is pretty much the same.


Legislators in San Francisco are set to introduce new laws requiring all mobile phone retailers to post radiation emission level notices next to all the handsets they sell. Tony Winnicker, spokesman for San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, claims that this “is a modest commonsense measure to provide greater transparency and information to consumers” and the proposal, which passed with a vote of 10-1, is likely to get its final approval next week despite the fact that there is NO EVIDENCE that mobile phones cause any harm to humans.



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