Religion the opiate of the poor?

Nicholas C. DiDonato

Karl Marx saw religion as an opiate of the poor: it soothed them so that they did not rise up against their capitalist oppressors. For Marx, this short-term relief hardly outweighed the long-term cost of poverty. It turns out that Marx may have been right. Research by political scientists Frederick Solt, Philip Habel, and J. Tobin Grant (all from Southern Illinois University) suggests that greater economic inequality correlates with greater religiosity, a correlation which they argue stems from the rich using religion to discourage wealth redistribution.

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Prisoners who attend religious services have fewer disciplinary problems

Nicholas C. DiDonato 

Civil authorities have long wondered what leads some prisoners to reform themselves and go on the path towards good citizenship, while others become lifetime prisoners through repeated offenses. While any answer to this question involves many variables and dimensions, religion’s role continues to be a matter of great dispute. Seeking a balanced analysis, criminologist Kent Kerley (University of Alabama at Birmingham) and colleagues argue that after controlling for demographics, criminal history, and self-control, frequent attendance at religious services predicts reduced prison deviance.

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Do you believe in magic? Seriously.

Nicholas C. DiDonato

Magic

No self-respecting defender of science would admit to believing in magic. Science has surpassed magic by providing real explanations. Yet, when put in the right situation, even these defenders betray an affinity for magic. Psychologist Eugene Subbotsky (Lancaster University, United Kingdom) has compiled a series of studies to argue that belief in magic begins in the consciousness of children (who explicitly accept it) and then persists by living in the subconscious of adults (who explicitly deny it).

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How are religious values passed down through families?

Nicholas C. DiDonato

For the most part, it seems that religious parents raise religious kids, who in turn pass down this religion to their kids, and so on. While genetics may very well play a role in facilitating this transmission, the transmission itself must come from social interaction. Focusing specifically on how grandmothers pass on their religious values to their granddaughters, psychologists Denise Lewis, Desiree Seponski (both University of Georgia), and Thomas Camp (Samaritan Counseling Center) found that granddaughters learn religious values from their grandmothers through role modeling, indirect communication, and “just knowing.”

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Europeans increasingly drawn to the occult

Nicholas C. DiDonato

Many atheists see Europe as a trend-setter for the rest of the world: Europe has become less religious over the years, and soon the rest of the world will follow (if it manages to become so enlightened). However, simply because Europe has become more atheistic does not mean it has become a bastion for reason and science. As research by European ethnologist Sabine Doering-Manteuffel (University of Augsburg) suggests, belief in occult forces is growing in Europe.

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Why atheist scientists bring their children to church

Nicholas C. DiDonato

The formula seems simple: parents pass down what they believe to their children. Atheist parents don’t believe in God or go to church, therefore…. Yet, a surprisingly large number of atheist scientists from elite universities raise their children in a religious community such as a church. Sociologists Elaine Ecklund (Rice University) and Kristen Lee (University of Buffalo, SUNY) found that these atheist scientists do so because they want to give their children religious choice, have a religious spouse, or think that religious communities will give their children moral bearings and community.

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Fraud may be rampant in science

Nicholas C. DiDonato

Medical fraud

Everyone loves cutting-edge science. The latest breakthroughs and insights into the physical world drive further innovation and fuel scientific enterprise. But what if they’re wrong? What if the scientists behind the latest and greatest breakthrough purposefully altered data only so that they could become the latest and greatest? Medical experts Ferric Fanga, (University of Washington School of Medicine), R. Steenc (Medical Communications Consultants), and Arturo Casadevall (Albert Einstein College of Medicine) discovered that 67.4% of biomedical and life-science journal retractions were due to misconduct – that is, deliberate number-fudging.

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AAP: Health benefits of newborn male circumcision outweigh risks

Baby boy

Nicholas C. DiDonato

In a time when medical knowledge seems to grow exponentially, suspicion of ancient medical practices seems to grow at nearly the same pace. If an ancient medical practice has religious meaning, then skepticism skyrockets. Many consider male circumcision an obsolete, if not barbaric, practice. Yet, its medical efficacy remains an empirical question, regardless of people’s gut reactions. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has updated their position on circumcision, concluding that it reduces the risk of urinary tract infections, sexually transmitted diseases, and penile cancer.

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A mystery in the history of Anabaptists

Nicholas C. DiDonato

Amish buggy

The attitudes of Anabaptist Christians toward violence have created quite a mystery for historians. On the one hand, some Anabaptists embraced extreme pacifism, renouncing violence altogether (for example, Quakers and Mennonites). On the other hand, some Anabaptist congregations embraced an opposite extreme: violence as a means to overthrow the establishment and create a theocracy. How could a tent seemingly as small as Anabaptism cover such contrasting ideologies?

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Education’s effect on religion

Nicholas C. DiDonato

College

Since the beginning of the Enlightenment, academics assumed that as education increases, religion would decrease. Yet, in the late 19th century, the world witnessed the birth of fundamentalism, Biblical inerrancy, and papal infallibility. Despite the great increase in education beginning in the 18th century, religion has not only grown but has become more conservative. Interested in higher education’s real effect on religion, sociologist Jonathan Hill (Calvin College) found that it mildly increases skepticism toward super-empirical beliefs, decreases adherence to exclusivism, and increases preference for institutionalized religion.

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