Archive for the ‘Religion and the Brain’ Category


Nigel Barber

Biopsychologist; Blogger, Psychology Today’s ‘The Human Beast’

Atheism to Defeat Religion By 2038

Countries with the best standard of living are turning atheist. That shift offers a glimpse into the world’s future.

Religious people are annoyed by claims that belief in God will go the way of horse transportation, and for much the same reason, specifically an improved standard of living.

The view that religious belief will give way to atheism is known as the secularization thesis.  The specific version that I favor (1) is known as the existential security hypothesis.  The basic idea is that as people become more affluent, they are less worried about lacking for basic necessities, or dying early from violence or disease.  In other words they are secure in their own existence.  They do not feel the need to appeal to supernatural entities to calm their fears and insecurities.

The notion that improving living conditions are associated with a decline in religion is supported by a mountain of evidence (1,2,3).

That does not prevent some serious scholars, like political scientist Eric Kaufmann (4), from making the opposite case that religious fundamentalists will outbreed the rest of us.  Yet, noisy as they can be, such groups are tiny minorities of the global population and they will become even more marginalized as global prosperity increases and standards of living improve.

Moreover, as religious fundamentalists become economically integrated, young women go to work and produce smaller families, as is currently happening for Utah’s Mormons.

The most obvious approach to estimating when the world will switch over to being majority atheist is based on economic growth.  This is logical because economic development is the key factor responsible for secularization.  In deriving this estimate, I used the nine most godless countries as my touchstone (excluding Estonia as a formerly communist country).

The countries were Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Japan, Netherlands, Sweden and the United Kingdom.  These nine countries averaged out at the atheist transition in 2004 (5) with exactly half of the populations disbelieving in God.   Their gross domestic product (GDP) averaged $29,822 compared to $10,855 for the average country in the world.  How long will it take before the world economy has expanded sufficiently that the GDP of the average country has caught up to the average for the godless countries in 2004?
Using the average global growth rate of GDP for the past 30 years of 3.33 percent (based on International Monetary Fund data from their website), the atheist transition would occur in 2035.

Belief in God is not the only relevant measure of religion, of course.  A person might believe in God in a fairly superficial way without religion affecting his or her daily life.  One way of assessing the depth of religious commitment is to ask survey participants whether they think that religion is important in their daily lives as the Gallup Organization has done in worldwide nationally representative surveys.

If fewer than 50 percent of the population agreed that religion was important to them, then the country has effectively crossed over to a secular majority.  The godless countries by religiosity were Spain, South Korea, Canada, Switzerland, Uruguay, Germany and France.  At a growth rate of 3.33 percent per year it would be 2041 before the average country in the world would be at an equivalent level of affluence as these godless nations.

If national wealth drives secularization, the global population will cross an atheist threshold where the majority see religion as unimportant by 2041.

Averaging across the two measures of atheism, the entire world population would cross the atheist threshold by about 2038 (average of 2035 for disbelief and 2041 for religiosity).  Although 2038 may seem improbably fast, this requires only a shift of approximately 1 percent per year whether in religiosity or belief in God.  Using the Human Development Index as a clock suggests an even earlier arrival for the atheist transition (1).

Is the loss of religious belief something fear?  Contrary to the claims of religious leaders, Godless countries are highly moral nations with an unusual level of social trust, economic equality, low crime and a high level of civic engagement (5).  We could do with some of that.

Sources 1. Barber, N. (2012). Why atheism will replace religion: The triumph of earthly pleasures over pie in the sky. E-book, available at: http://www.amazon.com/Atheism-Will-Replace-Religion-ebook/dp/B00886ZSJ6/  2. Norris, P., & Inglehart, R. (2004). Sacred and secular: Religion and politics worldwide. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 3. Barber, N. (2011).  A Cross-National test of the uncertainty hypothesis of religious belief Cross-Cultural Research, 45, 318-333. 4. Kaufmann, E. (2010). Shall the religious inherit the earth? London: Profile books. 5. Zuckerman, P. (2008). Society without God: What the least religious nations can tell us about contentment. New York: New York University Press.


Don’t Replace Religion; End It
Penn Jillette

Penn Jillette is the author of “Every Day is an Atheist Holiday!” and “God, No!

Religion cannot and should not be replaced by atheism. Religion needs to go away and not be replaced by anything. Atheism is not a religion. It’s the absence of religion, and that’s a wonderful thing.

Religion is not morality. Theists ask me, “If there’s no god, what would stop me from raping and killing everyone I want to.” My answer is always: “I, myself, have raped and killed everyone I want to … and the number for both is zero.” Behaving morally because of a hope of reward or a fear of punishment is not morality. Morality is not bribery or threats. Religion is bribery and threats. Humans have morality. We don’t need religion.

Atheism is the absence of religion. We don’t really need atheism. We just need to get rid of religion.

Religion is faith. Faith is belief without evidence. Belief without evidence cannot be shared. Faith is a feeling. Love is also a feeling, but love makes no universal claims. Love is pure. The lover reports on his or her feelings and needs nothing more. Faith claims knowledge of a world we share but without evidence we can share. Feeling love is beautiful. Feeling the earth is 6,000 years old is stupid.

Religion is often just tribalism: pride in a group one was born into, a group that is often believed to have “God” on its side. We don’t need to replace tribalism with anything other than love for all humanity. Let’s do that, okay?

Religion also includes fellowship, joy, compassion, service and great music, and those can be replaced by … fellowship, joy, compassion, service and great music.

Atheism is the absence of religion. We don’t really need atheism. We just need to get rid of religion.


Arthur Goldberg Likens his Embattled Ex-Gay Therapy Group to Weight Watchers

Submitted by Brian Tashman

Before founding the ex-gay therapy group JONAH, Arthur Goldberg was an investor convicted on felony charges and served time in prison for mail fraud and conspiracy. But the con man is being hailed as a hero by the Religious Right now that he is going up against the Southern Poverty Law Center in court, which is representing several customers of his New Jersey-based organization who are suing him for consumer fraud. Goldberg, however, will be unable to represent himself as he has been disbarred.

While speaking to American Family Association president Tim Wildmon and Family Research Council head Tony Perkins on AFA Today, Goldberg denied the SPLC’s claims that he defrauded customers by advertising that his group is able to “cure clients of being gay,” for example by instructing a group of men to “remove their clothing and stand naked in a circle” alongside a nude “counselor.”

Goldberg told Wildmon and Perkins that filing suit against an ex-gay therapy organization is like suing Weight Watchers for failing to lose weight through their program.


Florida Okays Execution of Schizophrenic Man in Direct Violation of Supreme Court Ruling

By Rania Khalek

  • Death Pentalty.

    (Photo: World Coalition Against the Death Penalty / Flickr)The Florida Supreme Court has ruled that the state can proceed with the execution of 64-year-old John Erroll Ferguson, despite its finding that he is a paranoid schizophrenic. The decision will be appealed to the US Supreme Court.

    The Florida Supreme Court has ruled that the state can proceed with the execution of 64-year-old John Erroll Ferguson, despite its finding that he is a paranoid schizophrenic. The Justices upheld the ruling of a lower court, which found that Ferguson’s “Prince of God” delusions, while “genuine”, are not “significantly different than beliefs other Christians may hold.” Gov. Rick Scott has since signed a new death warrant with the execution scheduled for Tuesday, October 23 at 6 p.m.

    Christopher Handman, one of Ferguson’s attorneys, tells Truthout that Florida’s method for determining competency is “overly restrictive” and “out of step” with the Constitution, as determined by the US Supreme Court. He says they will appeal to the Supreme Court for a stay and ask that they hear his case.

    Ferguson was sentenced to death for a 1977 mass murder in Miami Dade, which he committed shortly after the state released him from a mental hospital against the warnings of several state-appointed psychiatrists. During his incarceration, state appointed experts have continued to diagnose him with paranoid schizophrenia.

    The prosecution initially argued that Ferguson was faking his symptoms. But that was shot down last week by Bradford County Eighth Judicial Circuit Judge David Glant who found the testimony of Ferguson’s experts “credible and compelling” and ruled that Ferguson’s delusions are “genuine.” Nevertheless, Glant ruled that Ferguson is competent for execution because his beliefs are in keeping with Christian teachings.

    Ferguson expresses the belief, among other things, that he is the “Prince of God” chosen to fight two antichrists alongside Jesus – after which he will rule the world with multiple wives. In his mind, his incarceration is part of a “hardening” process designed by God to prepare him to return to earth after his execution and save America from a communist plot.

    Ferguson’s delusions represent a “relatively normal Christian belief, albeit a grandiose one,” concluded Glant. “There is no evidence in the record that Ferguson’s belief as to his role in the world and what may happen to him in the afterlife is so significantly different from beliefs other Christians may hold so as to consider it a sign of insanity.”

    Ferguson’s attorneys immediately appealed Glant’s decision to the Florida Supreme Court, which upheld the lower court’s ruling, though they ditched the “his delusions are totally normal Christian beliefs” part.

    “This is the first time the Florida Supreme Court has had an opportunity to consider the state’s methods for determining competency since the Supreme Court decided Panetti,” Handman told Truthout, referring to a Supreme Court ruling that clarified competency standards.

    The US Supreme Court initially banned executing the mentally ill in Ford v. Wainwright (1986), specifically if the inmate lacks the “ability to comprehend the nature of the penalty.” The Court expanded on that view in Panetti v. Quarterman (2007), a case brought forward by a psychotic Texas inmate whose case closely resembles Ferguson’s.

    Panetti had schizoaffective disorder that led him to believe the state wanted him dead to stop him from preaching. Though Panetti recognized the factual rationale behind his death sentence – that he was found guilty of murdering his ex-wife’s parents – the Supreme Court held that “[a] prisoner’s awareness of the State’s rationale for an execution is not the same as a rational understanding of it.” Furthermore, the Court reasoned that executing a prisoner who “has no comprehension of why he has been singled out and stripped of his fundamental right to life” undermines the concept of retributive justice.

    Ferguson, like Panetti, thinks that the state wants him dead not because of his crime, but as part of a conspiracy. According to testimony from George W. Woods, an expert in neuropsychiatry who examined Ferguson three times in the last year, Ferguson expresses a belief that “the guards [are] soldiers and communists” who are “going to kill him because they know he is the prince of God and that he has the power and can control the sun,” and that “he has more power than Jesus.”

    Ferguson also lacks any understanding of the consequences of execution. He believes death penalty is no match for his special powers which prevent him from ever being killed and that “just like Jesus, you’ll come and look and you won’t find me there [in my grave]”.

    Despite all of this, the Florida Supreme Court held that only a factual “awareness” of his crime and the reasons for his sentence are required for Ferguson to qualify as competent. At the same time, the Court denied that Ferguson “believes himself unable to die or that he is being executed for any reason other than the murders he was convicted of in 1978.”

    “The State has taken a hardline view that Panetti didn’t change anything,” says Handman. “[Panetti] amplifies the Ford requirements and clarifies the way it’s supposed to be approached because a lot of the lower courts had applied this overly restrictive conception of what it means to be insane. Florida’s statute currently embodies that same flawed conception.”

    It’s now up to the US Supreme Court to correct that flaw, because, contends Handman, “No justice will be served by executing a very sick, elderly man.”


Tory voters found to have larger ‘primitive’ lobe in brain

Our political allegiances could be hard-wired into our brains, neuroscientists believe.

Researchers have found evidence that the brains of conservatives are a different shape to those of Left-wingers.

Scans of 90 students’ brains at University College London uncovered a ‘strong correlation’ between the thickness of two particular areas of grey matter and an individual’s political views.

David Cameron and Nick CleggBrain buddies? Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron (right) is more likely to have a thicker amygdala while Liberal Nick Clegg could be expected to have a larger anterior cingulates

Self-proclaimed right-wingers had a more pronounced amygdala – a primitive part of the brain associated with emotion.

It is an almond-shape set of neurons located deep in the brain’s medial temporal lobe.

However, those aligned to the left had thicker anterior cingulates – which is an area associated with anticipation and decision-making.

The research was carried out by Geraint Rees director of the UCL Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience who said he was ‘very surprised’ by the finding, which is being peer reviewed before publication next year.

It was commissioned as a light-hearted experiment by actor Colin Firth as part of his turn guest editing BBC Radio 4‘s Today programme but has now developed into a serious effort to discover whether we are programmed with a particular political view.

An MRI scan of the brain. The right amygdala - an ancient part of the brain - was larger in those people who described themselves as conservativeAn MRI scan of the brain. The right amygdala – an ancient part of the brain – was larger in those people who described themselves as conservative. It’s located where the yellow area meets the red in the centre of the picture

Professor Rees said that although it was not precise enough to be able to predict someone’s stance simply from a scan, there was ‘a strong correlation that reaches all our scientific tests of significance’.

‘The anterior cingulate is a part of the brain that is on the middle surface of the brain at the front and we found that the thickness of the grey matter, where the nerve cells of neurons are, was thicker the more people described themselves as liberal or left wing and thinner the more they described themselves as conservative or right wing,’ he told the programme.

‘The amygdala is a part of the brain which is very old and very ancient and thought to be very primitive and to do with the detection of emotions. The right amygdala was larger in those people who described themselves as conservative.

Colin Firth commissioned the study as a light-hearted experiment but that has now developed into something more seriousColin Firth commissioned the study as a light-hearted experiment but that has now developed into something more serious

‘It is very significant because it does suggest there is something about political attitudes that are either encoded in our brain structure through our experience or that our brain structure in some way determines or results in our political attitudes.’

Mr Firth – who recently declared he had ended public support for the Liberal Democrats – said he would like to have party leader and now Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg subjected to the tests.

‘I think we should have him scanned,’ he said.

He said the coalition made him ‘extremely uneasy’ but would not rule out voting Lib Dem in future.

‘I would have to see what identity they took on because I don’t recognise them at the moment. I think all three parties are in a state of re-evaluation.’

Talking about the experiment, he said: ‘I took this on as a fairly frivolous exercise: I just decided to find out what was biologically wrong with people who don’t agree with me and see what scientists had to say about it and they actually came up with something.’

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-1342239/Brain-study-reveals-right-wing-conservatives-larger-primitive-amygdala.html#ixzz1qDdxqUtp


Pamela Geller’s Ghoulish Obsession With ‘Honor Killings’ Takes an Ugly Turn
Jewish bigot Pamela Geller exploits a murder to spread hatred

Anti-Muslim hate group leader Pamela Geller has seized on the murder of a 20-year old Muslim woman in Michigan, labeled it an “honor killing,” and is now planning to hold a “conference” using the murdered woman’s name — against the wishes of the woman’s family, and even though they say it was the act of an abusive stepfather, not an “honor killing” at all. And to make it even more disgusting, Geller is calling her hatefest a “human rights conference.”

It’s hard to imagine someone so twisted and dysfunctional that they’d intrude on a family’s grief over a murdered child, and use the victim’s name against the family’s wishes. But Geller is defiantly determined to exploit this murder for all the bigoted hatred she can wring out of it: Slain Woman’s Name on ‘Human Rights’ Conference Upsets Her Family.

Jessica’s murder made international headlines. She left Minnesota to escape an allegedly physically and mentally abusive stepfather, but in April of 2011, her stepfather, Rahim Alfatlawi, drove from Minnesota to her grandmother’s Warren home and shot her in the head.

Her family calls it an awful tragedy, but others are calling it an honor killing.

“We know that this is a practice under Islamic law. The honor killing is the final act. People know very little of the terror … that these girls live under,” said Pamela Geller.

She is the head of Stop the Islamization of America. Geller is hosting a conference on the anniversary of Jessica’s death in Dearborn. It’s called the Jessica Mokdad Human Rights Conference.

“We cannot sanction this gendercide. We cannot sanction the diminishment and dehumanization of women. We must speak up,” Geller said.

We asked Jessica’s stepmother, Cassandra Mokdad, whether her murder was an honor killing. “Absolutely it was not,” she said. She told us this disgusting act had nothing to do with Islam, a religion she said Jessica practiced proudly.

“It was nothing about religion or anything. It was just about a sick human being,” Mohammed Mokdad said.

“He wanted to have a relationship with Jessica as more than her stepfather. He wanted to have a more romantic relationship with her,” Cassandra Mokdad explained.

“She’s using Jessica as her poster child for anti-Islam.” Even the Macomb County Prosecutor on the case said Alfatlawi murdered Jessica because he was obsessed with her, not the religion, and Jessica’s family wants her name taken off the conference.

“She’s using Jessica as her poster child for anti-Islam,” said Cassandra Mokdad.

“What gulls me is that there is this prohibition on discussing it and the ideology that inspires honor killings,” Geller explained.

She said this conference will happen and the name won’t be changed.

“We’re definitely going to have this conference and it will not be stopped. Their directing their barbs at me. I didn’t kill Jessica. I’m trying to save the next girl. They should be helping me save the next girl,” said Geller.

“Absolutely I’ll go. I won’t let her sit there and misuse Jessica’s name, and I will let her know exactly how I feel,” Cassandra Mokdad told us.

But wait — the story gets even more repellent, because Geller and her followers bullied and harassed the management of the Hyatt Regency in Dearborn, Michigan into giving her a conference room for free to hold this ugly hatefest, after they canceled a previous Geller hatefest. Unbelievable.

Here’s a page with contact info for the Dearborn Hyatt, if you’d like to let the management know how you feel about this disgusting event: Detroit Metro Hotel – Detroit Michigan Hotels – Hyatt Regency Dearborn. They backed down and tried to appease Geller, and as a result she’s now using their facilities to exploit a murdered woman against her family’s wishes.


Obama, Assassination, and the Antichrist Conspiracy
Chip Berlet on the connections
Randall Gross Nov 19, 2011

[Link: http://www.talk2action.org/story/2011/11/19/153758/35/Front_Page/Obama_Assassination_and_the_Antichrist_Conspiracy]

Even if the shooter is a thorough crackpot his delusions did not form in a vacuum. Hate sites like Prison Planet, Atlas Shrugs, and Farrah’s World Net Daily all do most of the heavy lifting for these conspiracy theories and delusions. Oprah is not a hate site, but she does her share of aiding and abetting delusion with promotion of pseudoscience and magical thinking disguised as pop pscyh self help, so it’s really not a contradiction that he addressed a video to her, even though many on the right will grasp at that and say aha!

The alleged shooter charged with attempting to assassinate President Obama, Oscar Ramiro Ortega-Hernandez, apparently thinks our Commander in Chief is an agent of Satan in an End Times war. Sarah Posner has explained the basics in an article “‘Obama the Antichrist’ and end-times doctrine.” I warned about the possibility of the demonization of Obama leading to more violence in a book chapter published in 2010 “The Roots of Anti-Obama Rhetoric.” Here is a slightly revised version of what I wrote:

Many Americans believe Obama is a Muslim. Others are convinced he was not born in Hawaii and is thus not eligible to be President. Some say Obama is the Antichrist of Biblical prophecy.

A September 2009 poll in New Jersey found that 14% of Republicans believed that President Obama was the Antichrist—Satan’s agent in the End Times according to one reading of the Bible’s Book of Revelation. Another 15% thought it might be possible.

The results across political allegiances, however, were also troubling; with 8% of respondents statewide saying they thought Obama was the Antichrist and 13% stating they “aren’t sure”. The poll also found that “21% of respondents, including 33% of Republicans, express the belief that Obama was not born in the United States”.

According to the pollster, these are “eye popping numbers” (“Extremism in New Jersey”, 2009). The mobilization of apocalyptic expectation among Christian Evangelicals in the United States has been shown to be an effective mobilization strategy by the Christian Right and allies in the Republican Party (Boyer, 1992; Fuller 1995). This is especially true among fundamentalists (Barron, 1992; Mason, 2002; Berlet, 2008). This millenarian mood is spread from religious into secular communities, often through conspiracy theories (Brasher, 2000).