Psychology and the religion-science conflict: Part 1

Nicholas C. DiDonato

Man of Science with Religions

Talk of the “religion and science conflict” sets a trap: one quickly winds up pontificating about abstract objects as if they were real without any grounding in reality. “Religion” becomes a monolithic abstract entity, whose adherents all behave in the same way, and ditto for “science.” In hopes of looking at the religion-science conflict empirically, psychologists Cristine Legare (University of Texas at Austin) and Aku Visala (University of Oxford) take a psychological approach, concluding that scientific explanations do not replace religious ones. In Part 2 of this post, they critique the standard religion-science discussion.

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Video games: they have what atheists need

Connor Wood

Win!

Any regular consumer of Internet content may have developed some stereotypes about atheists. Atheists like Reddit.com. They enjoy cat videos (but then again, who doesn’t?). And they mistake fundamentalist Protestantism for all religion. But while these claims could easily be refuted by hanging out with actual atheists – for instance, many are quite religiously literate, and not all have Reddit accounts – a burgeoning academic field is trying to identify the genuine cognitive and personality differences between atheists and religious believers. In one recent paper, researchers found that atheists strongly preferred video games to board games, and argued that this difference was due to atheists’ reduced inclination for conjuring imaginative worlds.

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Does God accept the real you?

Punk priest

Nicholas C. DiDonato

In the West, the concept of God has a wide range of meanings, including a supernatural person-like agent, an impersonal force, pure actual being, beyond being, and many more. Thus, in applying psychology to one’s perception of God, psychologists typically limit themselves to the first conception. Still, the results can be fascinating. Psychologist Bart Soenens (Ghent University, Belgium) and colleagues applied the study of interpersonal relationships to religiosity and found that how one perceives one’s relationship with God affects whether one approaches religious claims symbolically or literally.

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An evidence-based rethinking of the religion-science conflict

Nicholas C. DiDonato

Study group

All too often, people assume that Christians don’t know or don’t want to know science because science conflicts with their beliefs: Christianity acts as a force for science illiteracy. However, research by sociologist John Evans (University of California, San Diego) suggests otherwise. His findings conclude that (1) Christians know just as much science as the non-religious; (2) conservative Christians favor their religious beliefs over science when the two “conflict” but, from their perspective, the two in fact are not in conflict; and (3) conservative Protestants oppose scientists’ influence in political issues when the scientists disagree with their moral values.

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Rise in elder Korean suicides: A reminder that religion matters

Connor Wood

South Korean flag

This week, the New York Times reported in a somber piece that the suicide rate among the elderly in South Korea – one of the world’s most astounding national economic success stories – has risen to catastrophic levels in recent years. The reason for this horrifying trend? The Times cites the collapse of the traditional Confucian family structures that, in ages past, virtually guaranteed that children would care for their elderly parents as an act of filial piety. This tragic story speaks volumes about the relationship between religion, economics, culture, and well-being – a relationship that, if we hope to overcome the challenges of the globalized 21st century, I believe we must learn to understand.

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Journal articles on scientific study of religion available online this month

Connor Wood

RBB Cover

In 2011, Wesley Wildman, contributor to Science On Religion here at Patheos.com, made an agreement with Taylor & Francis to start publishing a new academic journal, Religion, Brain & Behavior.  The journal’s mission was to provide a centralized venue for the most insightful, methodologically sophisticated, and academically valuable research in the field of the scientific study of religion – a field that’s seen rapid, even explosive, growth in recent years. Since then, Religion, Brain & Behavior has became, in scholar Michael Blume’s words, “THE cutting-edge journal for evolutionary studies of religion.” So we decided to post about the fact that Taylor & Francis is making articles from Religion, Brain & Behavior free for online access and download through the month of February.

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Religious households more likely to save money, plan for the future

Nicholas C. DiDonato

Family savings

Some see religion as an unnecessary burden because it requires time and money. While time cannot be recovered, money has a way of yielding returns on investment. Research by economists Luc Renneboog and Christophe Spaenjers (both Tilburg University, Netherlands) suggests that religious households tend to save money and plan for the future more than non-religious households, and, further breaking their results down, that Catholics attach greater importance to thrift and less importance to risk than Protestants.

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Does suffering drive us to religion? Yep.

Connor Wood

Sad woman and destroyed house

It’s a puzzling riddle: If God is in charge of everything, then why do people who undergo profound suffering often profess the greatest faith? Shouldn’t they retaliate at God by not believing in him?  The commonsense answer might be “yes,” but the facts seem to say otherwise. New research shows that New Zealanders who suffered from the devastating 2011 Christchurch earthquake actually became more religious afterwards than their fellow countrymen. What’s more, those who lost their faith after the quake suffered significant reductions in their self-reported well-being. [Read more...]

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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