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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Interview: Michael Ruse on Evolution, Creationism, and Religion

Daniel Ansted

Creationism vs Evolution

Michael Ruse is a professor of philosophy at Florida State University and a worldwide expert on the relationship between religion and science. His work has focused especially on the convoluted relationship between the American public and Darwinian evolution; he famously testified in McLean vs. Arkansas in 1981 that creation science – a form of Christian creationism that claims to be scientifically valid – should not be allowed in public science classes, because it features virtually none of the characteristics of true science. Contributor Daniel Ansted studied under Ruse during his time at FSU, and recently asked his former mentor for an interview. Here is their (slightly abridged, and still fascinating) conversation.

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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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Meditation may enhance introspective accuracy

Connor Wood

In the 17th century, John Locke argued that the only proper objects of scientific study were the primary qualities of matter – crisp measurements such as size and location. He and other thinkers thought that qualities such as color or temperature were too subjective for science. After all, I might think an apple was red, while you could call it orange or pink…but we’d have to agree on the measurement of its diameter! Hard measurements thus came to dominate scientific discourse, while subjective experiences were dismissed as irrelevant. But now, a group of Canadian researchers thinks that meditation might change this equation.

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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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Supernatural agents influence our social strategies

Ian Cooley

We’ve all had the experience of being spooked at some point in our lives. Maybe you were home at night when suddenly the power went out. In the dark, you became aware of something across the room, but you assured yourself that it was nothing. A moment later, however, there was no denying that the drapes were definitely moving. Of course, it was just a drafty window, but your lungs felt like they had just finished a marathon. This experience may have been the result of your mind’s predisposal toward perceiving other conscious entities in your environment; a recent research article suggests that we’re naturally inclined to attribute supernatural beings who have information about our private social knowledge.

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Forgiveness may affect longevity, health

David Rohr

From the mythical fountain of youth to modern cryogenics, the desire to extend our lives runs deep in the human psyche. Peruse any magazine stand and you’re likely to find a dozen ways to maximize your stay on planet Earth. Some are obvious: eat healthy, exercise, and don’t abuse yourself with drugs and alcohol. Other solutions are a bit more surprising: drink green tea, eat dark chocolate, and own a pet or two. Even more counterintuitive (and perhaps less self-congratulatory) than enjoying chocolate, a recent study suggests that longevity is also linked to your readiness to forgive those who harm you.

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