For Christians, Dawkins and the Qur’an leave a bad taste in the mouth, literally


Many studies have shown that moral disgust is “embodied”. Contemplation of taboo deeds really does leave people physically sickened. Now Ryan Ritter and Jesse Preston have extended this literature to show that religious beliefs that contradict one’s own also leave a bad taste in the mouth, literally.

Eighty-two Christian student participants were told they were taking part in two separate investigations: one a marketing survey requiring that they taste two different drinks; the other a study of handwriting and personality. The participants first tasted a lemon-based drink and rated it. Then, ostensibly to allow their palates to refresh, they completed the handwriting task, which involved them copying out either a neutral text (an intro to a dictionary); a section from Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion (in which he describes the God of the Old Testament as “arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction”); or a section from the Qur’an (from Surah 47: 1-2). A personality questionnaire helped embellish the cover story. Finally, the students tested the second drink and rated it. A handful of participants guessed the true purpose of the study and were excluded from the analysis.

In reality the two drinks were identical and the key measure was how the participants responded to the drink after exposure to religious beliefs that contradicted their own. The findings were clear: the Christian participants reported finding the drink far more disgusting after they’d written out a passage from either Richard Dawkins or from the Qur’an. In contrast, their ratings of the drink were unchanged after writing out the neutral passage.


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Our brains are weird.

There are two threads that run through our Anointed authorities. The first is an appealing “Christianizing” of the ideas. David Barton “Christianizes” American history; Ken Ham “Christianizes” the science of our origins; James Dobson “Christianizes” social science, including the definition of the family. The “Christianizing” of these ideas, by default, undermines the credibility of secular ideas that might challenge the positions promoted by the Anointed leaders. The second thread is old-fashioned American anti-intellectual populism. Barton, Ham, Dobson, and other Anointed leaders tend to make no effort to engage the fields they claim to represent. Barton never subjects his claims about American history to peer review in a journal. Ken Ham and James Dobson do no scientific research. In the secular world ideas get vetted in the academy through peer review in technical journals; then they appear in serious but more popular outlets; and then finally they might get discussed on the radio. The ideas of the Anointed cut out all these middlemen and appear immediately on the radio or television.

So this deserves some explanation.  Apparently there is a show where a married woman trades places with another married woman to see what their life is like and then hilarity ensues and we can all laugh about it as we eat our Big Macs.  I couldn’t bring myself to watch the whole episode, but the loud woman in the video trades places with a woman who is sort of “spiritual” and is into New Age-y type things.  The thought that someone may not be Christian terrifies and angers the loud woman and when she comes home she lets everyone know.  It is funny, but it is also a little sad.

Religious fear: Why are there still people in the Catholic Church?

I think some atheists underestimate the psychological power that religion can have over its followers.  Let’s take the Catholic Church as an example.

Over its history the Catholic church has taken every evil and violation of human rights and then institutionalized it.  Child rape, murder, censorship, political corruption, unlawful imprisonment, you name it.  Granted many of these crimes took place some time in the past, child rape and it’s concerted cover-up operation being the only modern one.  That says a bit though, your organization’s current legal trouble is only covering up for people who fuck children.

That being the case, why will pews be filled across the world next Sunday?  Why will parishioners continue to donate to this organization?  Would people continue to donate to say, Habitat for Humanity if they had a history covering up child rape?

The conclusion I come to is while people may belong to a religious group for many reasons, the fear of final death or eternal torment (especially when compared to eternal bliss) enables them to rationalize away heinous acts that their group is party to.

The truth may indeed be more complicated.  The source of Catholics cognitive dissonance may be more complicated than the fear of death or damnation, but I find it hard to believe it is not at least a component.  I pick on the Catholic church because its crimes, past and present, have been systematic and it’s leaders (read: Popes) have watched these crimes with either approval or inaction.


Arkansas Teacher Prays Over Class Before Exam


It is terrifying to me that some educators still feel it is okay to do this:

A Van Buren teacher prayed over her class, handed out individualized pocket Bible verses and posted Bible verses on her classroom wall, according to some parents.

On April 21, a parent said, her son told her that before the students’ annual Benchmark exams the preceding week, Central Middle School teacher Jan Redden prayed “for the Devil to be bound up and not to enter their brains.” (emphasis mine)

Following another parent’s complaint during the Benchmark exam period, district administrators handled the matter, stopping the pretest prayer as well as Redden’s practice of giving the children personalized Christian Bible verses to carry in their pockets, Van Buren School Superintendent Merle Dickerson said Thursday.

The Bible verse postings on the classroom walls were confirmed Thursday by Dickerson and Central Middle School Principal Eddie Tipton during a conference with the teacher, and the posters were removed Thursday morning, Dickerson said.

(Via: Dispatches from the Culture Wars

You know that this shit won’t fly.  Why do you still try to sneak it in?

The fallacy of a self evident god

I’d like to talk about a theodicy that religious people like to use when some of their weaker arguments have been debunked.

The claim is that the universe and us, and everything we see is so impossibly complex that it cannot have arisen by accident.  At first glance it seems to be a tough, even appealing, defense.  But it is a fallacy.

First, any “being” capable of producing the universe and simultaneously knowing everything about it at all times forever would have to be even more complex than the extant universe.  That this being can create itself from nothing or have always existed is somehow less troubling to the religious mind than an unconscious universe always existing or coming from nothing.

Second, what level of complexity would be acceptable in a universe not created by god?  In our universe we have four forces and spacetime.  Events proceed according to the laws of quantum mechanics and relativity.  Everything else, as far as I have learned, emerges as a consequence.  So what would a suitably simple universe look like?  Three force laws? Two? One?  Two dimensional space?  The burden is on the religious person to explain why our complex universe had to merit the attention of a divine being.  Physicists have asked what would the consequences be of having a two dimensional universe would be.  Not the least of which would be the existence of anyons, particles with arbitrary values of spin.  The physical implications are not simple in any sense.

So if you find yourself in a debate with someone who uses this defense, or you are someone who finds this a to be a satisfactory piece of evidence for the existence of god, ask what is really meant by “too complex.”  ”Too complex” compared to what?  If the answer is “Well I don’t know,” then you really haven’t defined complexity in a meaningful way, and that argument can’t carry any real weight.  Ask also why an infinitely complex god can exist forever, or begin spontaneously, but the unconscious universe cannot.

Christianity and Randian philosophy are incompatible

Rand is very clear: walking in the path of Christ and walking in the path of “Atlas Shrugged” hero John Galt will take you to two very different places. Which ought to give pause to political leaders who claim to embrace the values of Christ but adopt the politics of Rand.

Before Congress went on its Easter recess, the House of Representatives passed a 2012 federal budget blueprint drafted by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., who credits Rand for inspiring him into entering politics, and who reportedly encourages his staff members to read “Atlas Shrugged.” The budget unabashedly bears the trademarks of Rand’s thinking: its glorification of individualism and private enterprise not as a companion to the collective pursuit of the common good but as a replacement for it; the gradual elimination of anything that compels the haves to share with the have-nots; the presumption that have-nots are “moochers” or “looters” and must be treated accordingly.

This article article is a bit heavy on the scripture for me, but I basically agree that the Randian “Objectivist” (ha!) philosophy is incompatible with the moral message from the New Testament.  In fact, I think it is pretty obvious even from a cursory glance.  I wouldn’t waste too much of my breath explaining that to most conservatives, though.  I think it is pretty clear that they aren’t that worried about having a logically consistent world view.