Skepfeeds-The Best Skeptical blogs of the day

Alcoholics Anonymous Not As Helpful as Secular Alternatives

Posted in Friendly Atheist by Skepdude on February 4, 2009

I’ve written about the topic before: Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12-step programs which require participants to submit to a higher power (PDF).

You would think that, because AA is so famously known and its program so widely used, it would at least be effective… right?

New research says otherwise.

So what works better than AA’s 12 steps?

In last month’s Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, University of New Mexico addiction specialist William Miller and his colleagues presented findings from two controlled trials in which patients underwent drug treatment. Some of the patients received spiritual guidance as part of the treatment — learning such practices as prayer, meditation and service to others, all of which are central to 12-step programs. Others received secular psychotherapy. Because of the enduring popularity of AA and similar programs that involve a spiritual component, Miller and his team expected the patients in the spiritual group to do better than those in the secular group. They were wrong — at least in the short term.

While both groups eventually benefited relatively equally from their treatment — abusing substances on fewer days — it took longer to see improvement among those in the spiritual group. What’s more, those who received spiritual guidance reported being significantly more anxious and depressed after four months than those who got secular help. Those problems abated at about the eight-month point, but because substance abusers are at high risk for suicide, some worry that it may not be a good idea to put them through demanding spiritual calisthenics in the early months of their recovery.

READ THE REST OF THIS ENTRY AT THE FRIENDLY ATHEIST

Intelligent people ‘less likely to believe in God’

Posted in Uncategorized by Rodibidably on February 4, 2009

[Originally posted at: Telegraph.co.uk]

People with higher IQs are less likely to believe in God, according to a new study.
By Graeme Paton, Education Editor

Professor Richard Lynn, emeritus professor of psychology at Ulster University, said many more members of the “intellectual elite” considered themselves atheists than the national average.

A decline in religious observance over the last century was directly linked to a rise in average intelligence, he claimed.

[Read the rest of this post at: Telegraph.co.uk]

Expelled and Quote Mines

Posted in Uncategorized by Rodibidably on February 4, 2009

[Originally posted at: Religion, Sets, and Politics]

A “quote mine” is a quote which has been taken out of context. A quote mine is distinct from a generic out of context quote in that a quote mine is generally taken from a famous person. Thus, quote mining makes an implied argument from authority. Frequently, the individual whose quote is mined is not a reputable authority on the subject in questions Purveyors of pseudoscience and other fringe ideas they frequently quote mine scientists. Creationists are very fond of quote mining.

One of the most famous quote mines is Charles Darwin’s comment about the human eye. The quote mind is:

To suppose that the eye, with all its inimitable contrivances for adjusting the focus to different distances, for admitting different amounts of light, and for the correction of spherical and chromatic aberration, could have been formed by natural selection, seems, I freely confess, absurd in the highest possible degree.

This quote is from the sixth chapter of The Origin of Species. Immediately after this quote, Darwin goes into great detail describing just how the eye could in fact have formed by natural selection. This is thus an excellent example of a quote mine; it is both out of context and relies on an argument from authority. Like many quote mines, the authority in question is poor; in this case, Darwin died over a century ago. Given the nature of scientific progress, it is laughable that this 100 year old quote is persuasive evidence.

Quote mines are common occurrences in creationist circles. There are entire books of quote mines including Andrew Snelling’s The Revised Quote Book. Snelling’s book includes quotes from modern biologists; the implication is that biologists readily admit the failings of evolution when they are only talking to other biologists in their obscure journals. Many of Snelling’s quotes are either misquoted, woefully out of context or unpersuasive for other reasons.

[Read the rest of this post at: Religion, Sets, and Politics]

Iraqi woman had 80 women raped then recruited as suicide bombers

Posted in News by Skepdude on February 4, 2009

A WOMAN suspected of recruiting more than 80 female suicide bombers has confessed to organising their rapes so she could later convince them that martyrdom was the only way to escape the shame.

Samira Jassam, 51, was arrested by Iraqi police and confessed to recruiting the women and orchestrating dozens of attacks.

In a video confession, she explained how she had mentally prepared the women for martyrdom operations, passed them on to terrorists who provided explosives, and then took the bombers to their targets.

READ THE REST OF THIS ENTRY AT NEWS.COM.AU

Creationism and Intelligent Design Should Be Kept Out of the Classroom

Posted in News by Rodibidably on February 4, 2009

[Originally Posted at: US News & World Report]

By John Aloysius Farrell, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

Over to your right, at the start of his U.S. News op-ed on creationism, Henry Morris contends that 60 percent of Americans believe in the Jewish and Christian myth of creation: that some 10,000 years ago, a Supreme Being created an Adam and Eve and so began the human race.

He cites this statistic as a reason for including creationism, along with Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, in public school biology classes.

By doing so, of course, Morris exposes the silliness in his own argument.

Humans believe in lots of stupid stuff. Ghosts. UFOs. Satan. Collateralized Debt Obligations.

Our ancestors believed that the sun was a flying God named Apollo. The Hopi, the Hindus, the Buddhists, the Mormons, and many other peoples have composed elaborately varying songs of creation. It is our nature, when looking out at the great twin expanses of space and eternity, to come up with comforting myths.

The alternative—”They give birth astride of a grave, the light gleams an instant, then it’s night once more”—makes for truly courageous literature, but too many sleepless nights.

[Read the rest of this post at: US News & World Report]

CSH Raises Questions about the Legitimacy of Much-Touted Baylor University Religious Landscape Survey

Posted in Uncategorized by Rodibidably on February 4, 2009

The Council for Secular Humanism (CSH), publisher of Free Inquiry magazine and an affiliate organization of the Center for Inquiry, has today released to the national media a report calling into question many of the findings contained in the widely cited Baylor University Religion Survey of 2008. Baylor, a Baptist university, made headlines when its survey claimed that America is as religious as it has always been, adding that belief in religion is a universal characteristic displayed by all peoples around the world. Baylor researchers recently published their findings in a book called What Americans Really Believe (Baylor University Press, 2008). The CSH report contradicts these claims, suggesting that Baylor and lead researcher Rodney Stark may have improperly evaluated the data and consequently misinformed the public and the media.

The Council’s report points to a growing body of research by academic institutions and major survey organizations that clearly documents a downward shift of religious adherence in the United States. Why does the Baylor study contradict this? Independent scholar Gregory S. Paul, author of the Council’s report, and labeled as “public enemy number-one” of the churches by MSNBC, says that Baylor has relied on a flawed methodology. “The Baylor team has adopted a curious way of treating atheism, forms of unbelief short of atheism, and religious belief. This approach places a disproportionate emphasis on convinced atheism – the confident rejection that a personal God exists – at the expense of more moderate forms of nontheism,” said Paul. The report suggests that Baylor has failed to document large numbers of Americans who reject conventional religious beliefs, such as those who self-define as agnostic or “spiritual but not religious.” The Council’s report declares that, “Baylor’s methods largely ignore these doubters, making nonbelief appear less prevalent in society than it truly is. The Baylor team treats almost any deviation from strict atheism as a sign of religiosity. Doing so falsely maximizes the apparent level of faith.” 

The Council’s report shows how the Baylor survey omitted key findings of major polling organizations such as Gallop, Harris, and Pew. These polls document clear evidence of the increasing secularization of American society. Foremost among these findings are:

  • Numerous Gallup studies show that firm disbelief in God or a universal spirit has risen fourfold since the 1940s. Baylor researchers misinterpreted data from just two early Gallup polls, then combined them with data from a handful of other studies, creating an inaccurate impression that unbelief has held steady for more than 60 years.
  • Respected studies from Gallup, Pew, CBS, the BBC, and others find that between 10 and 13 percent of Americans either reject or doubt God’s existence. Two recent Harris Poll studies that used special methods to help unbelievers identify themselves found an unprecedented 21 percent of Americans at least doubting God’s existence. The Baylor team makes no mention of this data and relies on significantly lower figures.
  • Data from the Pew Center, the National Opinion Research Center (NORC), and the Harris Poll now show that America is entering into the same process of secularization that previously occurred in other Western countries. Baylor researchers disregard this data and continue to maintain — inaccurately — that “faith American style” is holding its own.

“The irony is that Stark and his cohorts at Baylor conveniently sidestep two major trends central to the secularization thesis, namely, the increasing level of persons who actively define as secular and, more importantly, the corresponding decline in church attendance and religious faith. The faithful are losing the very ground the unbelievers seize, as our report points out,” Paul said. 
 
“The United States is still the most religious country in the First World, but the Baylor thesis that ‘faith American style’ is holding its own is clearly false,” states the report. “Religious belief and activity in America are trending downward in so many ways that it is simply untenable to pretend that the nation is growing more religious.”
 
Why does all of this matter? Paul suggests that the Baylor team defended a false contention that religious belief is on the rise. “Baylor has presented itself as an objective source of information about societal trends to the media,” Paul said. “Our independent investigation of their study raises serious questions about the supposed ‘objectivity’ of that research. The evidence for increasing secularization across the West, including America, has long been acknowledged by most survey organizations. Stark and his team at Baylor stand alone in bucking this consensus…perhaps in service to Baylor University’s roots as a conservative Baptist institution.” 
 
The Council’s report concludes with a set of recommendations for Baylor and the media:

  • If Baylor University wishes to be perceived in future as a credible source of advanced, objective research and information, the institution needs to require that its Institute for Studies of Religion reform its program to meet modern mainstream standards of scientific rigor.
  • Because of the above-cited problems in Baylor’s religion-study project, until reforms are undertaken it is suggested that reporters and commentators adopt a more skeptical stance toward its reports. Media professionals should recognize that other major survey and analytical organizations such as Harris, NORC, Pew, and ISSP have displayed greater objectivity than Baylor/Gallup and their products should be considered more reliable.

The full report can be downloaded as a PDF file at: http://www.secularhumanism.org/greg-paul-baylor.pdf.

Skepdude’s atheist bus banner

Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on February 4, 2009

The Atheist Blogger has inspired me to create my own atheist bus slogan. Here goes!

bus1

It says:

Bad news is there’s probably no God

Good news is there’s probably no Devil either.

You like it?

James Randi Speaks: My Horoscope

Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on February 4, 2009