1. A recent paper published in The British Journal of Psychiatry looks at surveys of 7,400 people in the United Kingdom for links between mental health and religiousness and spirituality. I could only find the abstract online, but Mark Vernon (a former priest turned agnostic Christian journalist) wrote about the paper for The Guardian here.
  2. Klint Finley

    Vice interviews “Boobquake” founder Jennifer McCreight:

    Is it fair to say that, on the whole, atheists aren’t that crazy about feminism?

    I think, for some people, atheism is the one minority identity they have. They’re not gay, they’re not black, they live in the United States, and a lot of them are middle-class or higher. Being an “atheist” is the one thing that they take on as their cause, and they think it’s the most important because it’s the only one that affects them. It puts their priorities out of order a little bit. Once you’ve figured out God doesn’t exist, that’s great! But there are other irrational things you might believe in, like sexism.

    Full Story: Vice: ATHEISM?-?SEXISM?=?ATHEISM?+

    See also: How I Unwittingly Infiltrated The Boys Club And Why It’s Time For a New Wave Of Atheism:

    I don’t feel safe as a woman in this community – and I feel less safe than I do as a woman in science, or a woman in gaming, or hell, as a woman walking down the fucking sidewalk. People shat themselves with rage at the suggestion that cons should have anti-sexual harassment policies. DJ Grothe, president of JREF, blamed those evil feminist bloggers for TAM’s female attendance problem instead of trying to fix what’s scaring women away (and then blocked me on Twitter and unfriended me on Facebook for good measure). A 15 year old girl posted a photo of herself holding a Carl Sagan book to r/atheism and got a flood of rape jokes in return. The Amazing Atheist purposefully tried to trigger a rape survivor. Paula Kirby decided we’re all feminazis and femistasis. I’ve become used to being called a cunt or having people threaten to contact my employers because a feminist can’t be a good scientist. Rebecca Watson is still receiving constant rape and death threats a year after she said “Guys, don’t do that.” And mentioning her name is a Beetlejuice-like trigger for a new torrent of hate mail.

    Previously: How An Anti-Feminist Screed Ended Up In a Physics Journal

  3. Klint Finley

    Newsweek cover: "Heaven Is Real"

    I had mostly written Sam Harris off (different story entirely), but this is important stuff regarding Newsweek‘s baffling cover story of Eben Alexander’s pseudoscientific (at best) claim that heaven is real:

    As many of you know, I am interested in “spiritual” experiences of the sort Alexander reports. Unlike many atheists, I don’t doubt the subjective phenomena themselves—that is, I don’t believe that everyone who claims to have seen an angel, or left his body in a trance, or become one with the universe, is lying or mentally ill. Indeed, I have had similar experiences myself in meditation, in lucid dreams (even while meditating in a lucid dream), and through the use of various psychedelics (in times gone by). I know that astonishing changes in the contents of consciousness are possible and can be psychologically transformative.

    And, unlike many neuroscientists and philosophers, I remain agnostic on the question of how consciousness is related to the physical world. There are, of course, very good reasons to believe that it is an emergent property of brain activity, just as the rest of the human mind obviously is. But we know nothing about how such a miracle of emergence might occur. And if consciousness were, in fact, irreducible—or even separable from the brain in a way that would give comfort to Saint Augustine—my worldview would not be overturned. I know that we do not understand consciousness, and nothing that I think I know about the cosmos, or about the patent falsity of most religious beliefs, requires that I deny this. So, although I am an atheist who can be expected to be unforgiving of religious dogma, I am not reflexively hostile to claims of the sort Alexander has made. In principle, my mind is open. (It really is.)

    From there Harris proceeds to tear Alexander a new one.

    Sam Haris: This Must Be Heaven

    (via Brainsturbator)

  4. susan blackmore

    Blackmore was an important influence for me a few years ago when I was giving up on practicing magick because she had been through the same thing studying ESP: she researched it for years and determined that there wasn’t evidence to support her hypothesis. But she remained interested in “extraordinary human experience,” and showed me that it was possible to research and examine these issues from an open minded and respectful yet skeptical way. Blackmore considers these experiences an important part of the human condition worthy of our study and consideration, regardless of whether the causes are paranormal, psychological or neurological.

    Dr. Susan Blackmore is a researcher of consciousness and what she calls “extraordinary human experience,” which includes experiences often referred to as “paranormal,” including out of body experiences and alien abduction. She has a PhD in parapsychology from the University of Surrey, where she studied ESP and memory and eventually gave up belief in the paranormal and adopted a more skeptical worldview.

    Dossier: Susan Blackmore

  5. A while back Cat Vincent asked why no atheists debated Alan Moore at the skeptics conference TAM London. I told Cat that I personally didn’t have much to debate with Moore.

    Moore’s position, staked out in this essay on magic as well as the magic essay from Dodgem Logic 3 (which I think is a better version of the “Fossil Angels” essay, and extends the purpose of magic from art in particular to creativity in general), is that that magic is a process that takes place probably in one’s own mind and doesn’t confer the power to fulfill wishes. For example, in Dodgem Logic he wrote that using magic to try to get money handed to you was pointless. Instead, you were better off using magic to try to find some creative way to actually earn some money. He claims to have seen visions of gods, but admits they could very well be hallucinations. There’s not much room to debate a guy who says magic can’t fulfill all your wishes and that he could be tripping balls mad.

    Biologist and noted atheist blogger PZ Myers seems to agree:

    Moore has an affinity for a 2nd century oracular sock puppet, but he doesn’t worship it. He believes in magic, but he doesn’t believe in the supernatural. He also doesn’t like religion. I agreed with almost everything he said 100% (although he did speculate a bit about the absence of explanation for memory, which he thought was a mystery because there are no changes in the structure of the brain that last for more than a few weeks, which is total bullshit, and he wondered if the purpose of junk DNA was to store memories, which is bullshit on fire. But, OK, the rest of the talk was mostly fun.)

    Moore is a writer, and his explanation was basically that the weirdness was to spark creativity; for instance, he talked about staring into a quartz crystal and seeing visions, but he was quite plain that it wasn’t supernatural, it wasn’t the crystal, it was his own mind generating and imposing ideas on what he saw. And that’s all right with me — it fits very well with how I see science functioning.

    Pharyngula: Alan Moore at Cheltenham

    Actually, I think if there’s anything to debate Alan Moore about it’s whether what he describes as magic is truly “magic” at all. But I’m not particularly interested in having that debate, and I doubt he really is either.

  6. … is an old e-mail forward. There’s a Snopes entry here. The e-mail originally circulated without Einstein’s name. Leaving aside the dubious merit of the argument being made by “Christian student” in this chain letter, the attribution to Einstein is blatantly false. Einstein was not a Christian. He was a religious Jew for a period in his youth, but later became a pantheist. You can find out more in this Time Magazine article.

    Einstein was critical of atheists, but not in the way presented in the chain letter.

  7. A couple months ago I linked to a story about the happiest guy in the world. One of the ways this was calculated was based on religion - religious people are typically assumed to be the happier than non-religious people. And apparently religious Jews are expected to be happiest of all.

    But are religious people actually happier? According to Nigel Barber, an evolutionary psychologist, that might not be the case. Barber writes:

    Much of the research linking religiosity and happiness was conducted in the U.S. where more religious people are slightly happier. Researchers saw this as evidence for the universal benefits of religion (a perspective that interests evolutionary psychologists like myself because it helps explain why religion is so common around the globe). Yet, there is no association between religiousness and happiness in either Denmark or the Netherlands (3).

    Why the difference? Religious people are in the majority in the U.S., but in a minority in Denmark and the Netherlands. Feeling part of the mainstream may be comforting whereas being in the minority is potentially stressful. Ethnic minorities around the world tend to have higher blood pressure, for example - this being a reliable index of stress.

    If religion contributes to happiness, then the most religious countries should be happiest. Yet, the opposite is true.

    Psychology Today: Does religion make people happier?

    Could it be then that the level of happiness enjoyed by religious people in the U.S. is a result of conformity, rather than religion itself? If that were the case, we should expect religious people in more secular countries, controlled for income, to be less happy than non-religious people in those countries. Is this the case?

    Here’s a recent ranking of the top 10 happiest countries in the world.

  8. This was originally published at Alterati last year as part of my Spliced column.

    santa shroom

    (Above: a holiday card taken from the Amanita muscaria - Holiday Cards gallery)

    Christmas is always a good time of year for ontological terrorism. For example, “The psychedelic secrets of Santa Claus" by Dana Larsen from Cannabis Culture Magazine is one of my favorite links to spread around Christmas time. Larsen makes the case that though Santa Claus is now a symbol of our annual collective consumer-orgy, he may originally have been inspired by amanita muscaria mushroom eating shamans. That the very same politicians that enforce and promote the war on drugs tend to also whole heartily endorse a religious figure birthed of ancient drug culture amuses me to no end. Larsen’s idea, apparently taken from Jonathan Ott, might not pass skeptics’ muster. But most, if not all, of Christmas traditions stem from pagan practices.


    Another of my favorite Christmas links is Patrick Farley's Chick tract parody about the pagan roots of Christmas. But Chick himself is all too aware of the Christianizing of pagan practices and publishes tracts warning Christians against paganism. In Are Roman Catholics Christians?, Chick portrays Roman Catholicism as a pagan religion. In The Death Cookie he compares communion with various pagan traditions, and in Fairy Tales a kid goes on a murder spree when he learns that there is no Santa.

    chick tract

    What you’ll never see acknowledged in the Chick tracts is that it’s not just Santa with pagan origins: the real “reason for the season” has pagan roots as well. What better holiday gift can you give your Christian loved ones this holiday season than an e-mail with a link to jesusneverexisted.com? In addition to covering the lack of historical evidence that Jesus ever existed, they take a look at pagan sources of “son of god” myths and Christ’s various predecessors such as Osiris, Apollo, Hercules, and Odin.

    Alas, even the staunchest of atheists, like Dawkins and Sam Harris celebrate Christmas with their families, according to the New York Times. And despite my misgivings about consumer-binging and hazardous winter travel, I too find myself celebrating Christmas every year. Astronomer Carolyn Porco has argued in favor of creating science rituals and customs to replace religion:

    Imagine a Church of Latter Day Scientists where believers could gather. Imagine congregations raising their voices in tribute to gravity, the force that binds us all to the Earth, and the Earth to the Sun, and the Sun to the Milky Way. Or others rejoicing in the nuclear force that makes possible the sunlight of our star and the starlight of distant suns. And can’t you just hear the hymns sung to the antiquity of the universe, its abiding laws, and the heaven above that ‘we’ will all one day inhabit, together, commingled, spread out like a nebula against a diamond sky?.

    And in a recent Reason Magazine column Greg Beato has made the case for an increase in atheist or secular humanist merchandise, along the insane lines of Christian merchandising. Neither one of these things has much appeal to me. As Beato says, “One virtue of non-belief is that not every aspect of your life has to be yoked to some clingy deity who feels totally left out if you don’t include Him in everything you do.”

    Yet, I’ve come up with an idea for a “secular humanist” celebration for December 25th, for anyone dying for something to celebrate. In Divine Horseman, Maya Deren describes the loa Ghede Nimbo as the first human who ever lived (page 38). Michael Bertiaux’s hypersyncretic Voudon Gnostic Workbook describes Baron Legbha-Nibbho as a Christ figure (page 48) and says that his death is to be recognized on Fridays. This gave me the idea of celebrating the 25th as the birth of the very first human. Not as a Voudon loa, but as a secular humanist celebration of the origin of our species.


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