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Jul 25 2014

College Quiz Reflects Actual Research; Student Freaks Out, Blames “Liberal Spin”

Ohio State, it seems to me,
Despises Christianity;
The answers to this latest quiz
Are biased toward the way things is,
Instead of, if I might be blunt,
A bias toward the things I want—
And so I’m going on the hunt.

I’ll call the press, and force the prof
To take this truthful question off!
This “science” can’t be in our book
(I must admit, I didn’t look,
Or I’d have seen the study there)
Or if it is, I do not care!
It makes me mad, so it’s not fair!

I don’t care what the study shows—
It’s crap, as everybody know!
Liberal bias, it’s plain to see
Pervades this “University”!
But I know best—I won’t be fooled!
This “published study”? Overruled!
You can’t teach me! I won’t be schooled!

This one is really quite funny. An undergrad at Ohio State University saw a question that reflected some uncomfortable research findings, and the shit has hit the fan:

An Ohio State University (OSU) class has apparently determined another fundamental difference between Christians and atheists: their IQ points.

An online quiz from the school’s Psychology 1100 class, provided to Campus Reform via tip, asked students to pick which scenario they found most likely given that “Theo has an IQ of 100 and Aine has an IQ of 125.”

The correct answer? “Aine is an atheist, while Theo is a Christian.”

Except that the OSU class had nothing to do with the determination; the question is from an online quiz that is part of the book’s ancillary package, apparently. Chapter 10 of the class’s textbook examines intelligence, apparently including some of the empirical evidence on correlations between IQ tests and various demographics (The other possible answers seem to show that the book also mentioned correlations between IQ and political conservatism/liberalism, and between IQ and earning power, but those answers were phrased to be the opposite of what the studies actually show, and thus were clearly incorrect).

According to a student in the class who wished to remain anonymous, the question was a part of an online homework quiz. Students were required to complete a certain amount of quizzes throughout the course but were encouraged to finish all of them in order to prep for the final exam.

“I understand that colleges have a liberal spin on things so it didn’t surprise me to see the question, which is a sad thing,” the student told Campus Reform in a phone interview. “But how can you really measure which religion has a higher IQ?”

Well, my guess is that this question is answered in the textbook the student apparently did not read. A recent paper, likely the source of the information asked about in the quiz, was a meta-analysis of 63 studies that apparently were able to do what this student finds impossible. (The paper proposes a number of different causal mechanisms, none of which boil down to “Christians are dumber than atheists”, as the CampusReform article headline puts it.) The question also has a “report this question” button, but I suppose calling Campus Reform is more fun. Besides, martyrdom:

“Colleges will tolerate pretty much any religion other than Christianity,” the OSU student said. “If colleges really want to give everyone a fair shot, they should stay away from making comments about any religion.”

Oddly enough, Cuttledaughter worked in an OSU lab–a biological research lab, with some heavy hitter profs. She was the only atheist in the lab, and felt she had to keep quiet when various discussions took place around the lunch table (at which, btw, grace was said. every day. in a science lab. because colleges tolerate pretty much any religion other than Christianity), like talk about the War against Christmas or the Jackson, OH school portrait of Jesus. I also have friends who are faculty at OSU; every one of them is Christian.

In sum… the question reflected real research, and was fair game to ask. The student, uncomfortable, chose to go to newspapers rather than through available channels. And whether or not a University opposes or panders to a given religion may well be mostly in the eye of the beholder.

Jul 24 2014

Well, Now, That Was Strange…

My view, it seems, has been dismissed
Because I am an atheist;
It’s strange—that’s not my view they list—
They call it mine; they quite insist,
Although I never said it.

They know the way the godless act
With lots of noise and little tact
Beyond debate, it’s known as fact
By learned types—to be exact,
Philosophers of reddit.

They’ve seen the way it always works
The utterly expected quirks:
When on his own, he merely lurks
But in a group, they act like jerks—
“My allies will protect me!”

I’ve seen it too—I won’t deny
They act like jerks; I don’t know why.
But think again (I hope you’ll try)
Cos here’s the funny thing—oh, my!
Those atheists reject me!

An amusing little thing happened yesterday. My previous post got linked to by two different subreddit areas (forgive me if my reddit vocabulary is incorrect; I am not a reddit regular. Cuttledaughter loves it, but I guess I have plenty to do here), with very different reactions.

First, it was posted on the “bad philosophy” area. I’ve never seen that subreddit before yesterday, so I don’t know any of their customs or traditions or characters, so I really have nothing to compare it to; I am not complaining about what was said, because I don’t even know if it was meant in earnest (as they say it is “not a place for learns”). But, that said, some of the comments were very dismissive of atheists. Not me in particular, mind you–indeed, those comments read as if they had never read my blog at all (which is overwhelmingly likely, as I am a very small fish in a very big ocean), including the post they were commenting on. Rather, they spoke of atheists and gave the example of the reddit atheism area–a very different place from here, I gather–and disparaged the typical atheist as represented by the reddit atheist.

Meanwhile, the other reddit link to my post was in the “atheism rebooted” area, where it gathered a grand total of two comments, only one on topic. The other, though, was the interesting one:

There is a reason I avoid FTB like the plague… A+ is a huge reason.

Now, you might have noticed that my blogpost itself had absolutely nothing at all to do with A+. Doesn’t matter.

The people giving atheism a bad name already reject us; it’s just too bad the outside world (well, in this case a philosophy subreddit) still groups us with them.

Dana’s right–the rifts aren’t deep enough yet.

Jul 22 2014

On Defining Atheism

Sorry, no verse. My aggregator threw a post at me that was based on the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy’s definition of atheism. It used that definition for a lot of heavy lifting, showing that we atheist types are all sorts of illogical, given that definition. Thing is, it’s a shit definition, and moreover, it’s not *the* definition by any means.

Anyway, I responded there, and reprise it here in case (but why should it be the case?) it is not printed there:

You have good reason to cite the Stanford encyclopedia–it is convenient for your argument. Mind you, you could have cited any number of other sources that disagree, but this gives you one you can call FACT (appeal to authority, if you care) despite the existence of contradictory definitions.

Let me suggest another authority–the Oxford Handbook of Atheism (How does Oxford rank in comparison to Stanford?). It costs a bit, so here’s a site with the relevant bit quoted with permission: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2014/02/11/defining-atheism-an-excerpt-from-the-oxford-book-of-atheism/

In a nutshell, atheism is the privative category of religious belief, the “none of the above” answer when asked if you are catholic, lutheran, baptist, episcopalian, brethren, methodist… orthodox, reform… sunni, shia… sikh, hindu, buddhist, zoroastrian, Greek polytheist, Norse polytheist, Scientologist, Mormon, Heaven’s Gate Cultist…. “None of the above” is a perfectly reasonable answer, without any of the baggage of “strong vs weak” (consider–any strong Christian* believer is also a strong Greek Polytheism atheist). It has the added advantage of actually encompassing more atheists than the Stanford definition does, in terms of congruence with the statements of actual atheists; it includes (though the categories are not needed) both “strong” and “weak” atheists, both “accidental” and “deliberate” atheists.

Mind you, the Oxford definition means that much of the rest of your post is relatively irrelevant. Here, of course, you have a choice: You can keep your definition, and maintain that the atheists that don’t fit it are a problem of atheism, or you can recognize that the people you are looking at do not fit the definition you are using because it is a bad definition. In science, when good, hard data disagree with a theory, it is because the theory is inadequate. Here, the data disagree with your Stanford definition. The good news is… you have another, much better, definition sitting right in front of you.

(BTW, the Stanford encyclopedia also happens, coincidentally, to define my own particular are of science incorrectly. It’s a problem I have to alert my students to each semester. The problem with any appeal to authority is, it is only as good as the authority you appeal to.)

I guess I have seen one too many instances of “if X, then Y”, where X is “this is what atheists believe”, and is utter bullshit, and Y is “they must also think all this stuff”, which is more utter bullshit.

Edited to add!–do please click through to see the comments–as of this writing, no atheist comments (not mine, nor any of those of the commenters here) have been published. The site’s author, though, in charge of which comments get through, has commented:

Wow, this post just went up, and we had four atheists comment seeking attention for their personal mental states. This is a blog about evidence. This is not the place for deluded people to call attention to their delusions.For people who want to talk about their beliefs but not about the evidence for those beliefs, I recommend paying a psychologist to listen. The rest of us don’t care about your delusions, we are into arguments and evidence.

Please compare that comment to mine–I would suggest that mine was on topic, appropriate, and not at all about “seeking attention for [my] personal mental state.” I would also suggest that the statement “This is a blog about evidence” is, of course, a lie.

Oh Wintery Knight… I have linked to you, so anyone can see I am not misrepresenting you. Do you have the courage to do the same?

Jul 21 2014

Bishops’ Stance On Motives And Behaviors

“Hate the sin, but love the sinner”,
So I do not hate the gays—
Their desires aren’t a problem
What’s a problem is their ways

It’s their actions, not their motives,
Which define a life of sin
What’s important is their conduct
Not what drives it from within.

If you act on your attraction
That’s what matters most, you see,
Not your motives but your actions
Are forbidden by decree

Thus, I treat them like pariahs
While I love them, every one—
I don’t hate their evil thinking,
Just the evil they have done

You might want to call it bigotry—
It isn’t, really, quite—
See, I’m practicing religion
So it has to be all right

Since my faith’s my motivation
There’s a fact you’ll have to face:
It’s my motive, not my actions
That’s important in this case

According to the Catholic News Agency, representatives of US bishops have made clear their position: When it comes to same-sex relationships, it is perfectly fine for someone to experience attraction, but acting on that attraction is beyond the pale. The problem is that “the bill does not differentiate between same-sex attraction and same-sex conduct, posing a problem to faith groups such as Catholics that affirm the dignity of homosexual persons but oppose homosexual actions.” That is, it’s ok to be gay, so long as no one knows it from what you do, like, say, getting married or actually engaging in a human relationship. It’s what you do that they have a problem with, not your reasons for doing it.

They also made clear their objections to the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which focuses on what you do, ignoring your reasons for doing it, which the bishops think is entirely unfair.

“Churches, businesses, and individuals should not be punished in any way for living by their religious and moral convictions concerning sexual activity,” the bishops wrote in a July 17 blog post for the U.S. bishops’ conference.

They have religious reasons for discriminating, which means they can’t possibly be actually discriminating; it’s their reasons for doing stuff that is important, not the actual discrimination they are engaged in.

It’s all so simple, really.

Jul 21 2014

Unexpected Science: Sixth Grade Edition

Lionfish live in the ocean
Little Lauren gets a notion:
Might they live in rivers, too?
Would they thrive in brackish water?
Lauren, ichthyologist’s daughter,
Knows just what to do

Slowly starts desalination
Learns some brand-new information
Of which we’re now aware
New understanding’s always great
So, never underestimate
The sixth-grade science fair!

Via NPR, new information from a young scientist–a sixth grade science project demonstrates that invasive lionfish would be able to survive in brackish river water, widening the range of potentially threatened ecosystems.

“Scientists were doing plenty of tests on them, but they just always assumed they were in the ocean,” Lauren, now 13, tells NPR’s Kelly McEvers. “So I was like, ‘Well, hey guys, what about the river?’ ”

In the beginning, she wanted to conduct her test by placing the lionfish in cages at different points in the river, but she had to simplify the project.

“It was just a small, sixth-grade project, and I really didn’t have all the tools necessary,” she says. Her dad, who has a Ph.D. in fish ecology, suggested that she put the fish in tanks instead.

Now, there are a lot of problems with science fairs, and frankly, Lauren’s very good research points out some of them–for instance, the odds of any random kid from her class having access to six different aquarium tanks (and the equipment needed to maintain them) are remote. This sort of science fair shows the role privilege can play.

But it also shows that a great question, and an elegant test of the answer, can sometimes come from unexpected places. Reminds me a bit of Emily Rosa. And we should not be surprised in the least when kids’ science fair ideas are influenced by what they have grown up listening to around the dinner table.

Jul 16 2014

Inclusive Becomes Sexist, In One Easy Step

If you want to play the market—
And to out-perform the Dow—
There’s an index fund that’s figured out
A brand-new method how!
If you recognize diversity
In leadership positions
You can make a great portfolio
From other funds’ omissions!

If you specialize in companies
Where women are in charge
You’re omitting eighty-nine percent
(Cos men rule, by and large)
See, women in the boardroom
Are a rarity, it’s true,
But investing in these women
Can be lucrative for you!

But! Addressing disproportion
In the modern business scheme
Means investing more in women!
(It’s a feminazi dream!)
So the MRA’s start screaming
“This is sexist, can’t you see?—
Why, such actions are atrocious…
They no longer favor me!

So… I found this by traveling backward, having seen the final product first–but I think it best to start at the beginning. There is, New Hampshire Public Radio reports, an index fund that focuses on companies with women in leadership positions:

There are 406 companies in Pax’s new index fund, including Microsoft, General Electric, and Estee Lauder. Besides being well-established brands, they have one thing in common: women in leadership positions. Ninety-seven percent of all the companies in the fund have two or more female board members. In a traditional index fund, says Pax CEO Joe Keefe, women sit on only about 11 percent of board seats.

You know there’s significant research at this point showing that where women are better represented on corporate board and where women are better represented in senior company management that those companies actually perform better.

So… 2 or more female board members. So most of the boards still have men, and may well have a majority of men. There’s no real threat to men here, nor is there any implied in the research:

It’s not that women are better at business than men. Sorry, ladies. “What the research points to,” Keefe says, “is that diverse groups make better decisions than non-diverse groups.”

Ok, I could do without the “Sorry, ladies.” What the research is telling us is what feminists have long realized: you don’t do your business any favors by excluding half of the potential brainpower. If the existing inequalities (seriously, 89% of companies have no women on their boards?) are there because men are naturally better at business, this fund should tank. But no, a fund that addresses institutional sexism is doing quite well!

The NHPR article is titled “Pax Index Bets Women-Led Firms Can Beat The Stock Market“. I’d probably have read it with that title anyway, but that was not the title I first saw. Via a box at the Union Leader, the first title I saw was “Pax World believes sexist fund can beat the market“.

That’s right–a fund that seeks inclusiveness and diversity, because it deliberately searches for the 1/9th of companies that have both men and women on their boards, and not the 8/9ths of companies that have men only, has been labeled “sexist”.

Jul 15 2014

“Religious Freedom Is Fading…”

I’ve got Jesus in my bedroom
I’ve got Jesus in the halls
I’ve got paintings, prints, and posters
Of my savior on my walls
There’s a Jesus on my dashboard
While I’m driving down the street;
And my shirt says “Jesus loves you”
To the strangers I might meet

Now, my neighbors’ yard is filled with saints;
It’s hard to count them all!
There’s a Virgin Mary Grotto
Carved directly in their wall
There’s religious iconography
(They say it helps them cope)
And a special little closet
Filled with pictures of the pope

There are twenty-seven churches
I could visit if I like
There are twelve that I could walk to,
And there’s fifteen more by bike
They are thick as flies on honey
Some are old and some are new
But a couple public places
Have no Jesus-stuff in view!

There’s no cross above the courthouse
There’s no crèche at City Hall
There’s no Jesus on our currency—
“In God We Trust” is all—
I could put the Ten Commandments
Carved in granite at Town Square
But the secular “progressives”
Say there’s no religion there

It’s a travesty of justice!
It’s a trampling of my rights!
It’s oppression! It’s barbaric!
They’ve got Jesus in their sights
And they plan to take us over—
Wipe religion from the map!
That’s my honest, true, opinion…
Though it’s total fucking crap

A Christian Post editorial, utterly unsurprisingly, confuses the reeling back of the slightest measures of over-privilege with jack-booted religious repression. It is laughable in some of its claims (“The lackadaisical religious expressions of presidential candidates and their parties is another point at which religion’s impact has been parsed out.”), and varyingly disingenuous and sloppy in others:

While the fading of American religious freedom may seem subtle to some, in actuality it has been blatantly pursued for some time. For instance, think of the trend to remove prayer in any shape or form from public venues. Think also of the debate over whether the Ten Commandments can be displayed. Call to mind the upheaval caused by the phrase “Under God” being printed on US currency. The limiting of religious texts within certain venues, such as educational institutions, is another instance.

“Public venues”? Not at all–you can have all the religious expression you want; you just cannot have the government take your side. “Whether the Ten Commandments can be displayed”? Display it at your home, at your church, at your own place of business…but do not force me to display it at my house, or at any place where you and I both are represented. “Under God”? Heh… it’s “In God We Trust”, actually, on currency, and “under god” in the pledge. And the very fact that these two examples exist despite multiple challenges rather undercuts your argument.

There is no argument, actually. There is misrepresentation, there is false witness, there is paranoia, there is a martyr complex of epic proportions.

Related post
Another one
And another

Jul 13 2014

Meatspace Report

In case you were wondering, it is entirely possible to have a memorial/funeral service with absolutely no religious overtones (or even undertones, or, frankly, tones). My estimate is that a bit less than half of the people there were atheists… a bit less than a third were openly atheist, though that is a hard thing to know.

I had a blatantly atheist speech prepared, but only on the condition that a drastically religious speech called out for mine. I was very happy to give my non-blatantly atheist speech. Along with many other heartfelt recollections, from many others.

All in all, it was beautiful.

Thanks for your patience.

Jul 11 2014

Very Important Meatspace Stuff

… so I’ll be scarce to non-existent in digital form until at least Sunday.

Don’t let the pilot light go out.

Jul 09 2014

“A Symbol Of National Unity”

I shouldn’t be shocked—hey, they’re only the news,
They can say what they want with impunity—
But it took me aback that they called a cathedral
A “symbol of national unity”.

It’s a beautiful building, I have to admit,
(Darth Vader hides in the façade!)
But it seems our one nation once deemed indivisible
Separates now, “under god”

The cathedral is of the Episcopal Church
So the Baptists, of course, disagree—
Not to mention the Wiccans, or Muslims, or Jews…
But it’s Unity, clearly, you see?

It’s not their intent to do anything wrong
They try to be open, it’s true
They’d love to unite the whole nation, of course,
But that’s something religion can’t do.

It’s a feel-good story; the National Cathedral is getting its needed repairs after the 2011 earthquake sent God’s message that He is a Darth Vader fan. It’s beautiful architecture, wonderful stone carving (my favorite is at 1:40 in the video, reminding us that artists have long used whatever source material they could, from pagan gods to bible stories, as an excuse to showcase naked bodies), extraordinary stained glass (which includes secular themes, like the Apollo lunar landing, incorporating an actual moon rock in the design), and I am happy to see it being restored.

Also, despite being the “National Cathedral”, every dime paying for its construction and repair is from private donors. It officially is an Episcopalian cathedral, not a U.S. one (its official name is “The Cathedral Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul in the City and Diocese of Washington”), although it has seen events from many denominations, and secular events as well.

But one thing it is not, though the linked story makes the claim–it is not a “symbol of national unity”. I can see why the Episcopalian Church would want to call it that–the Pew numbers put traditional and evangelical Episcopalian/Anglicans, combined, at under 2% of the US, not even in the top ten denominations, percentage-wise; to lay claim to a unified “National” anything would be a serious cap-feather. I think, maybe, the only real symbol of unity for this diverse country might well be the motto e pluribus unum, which at once recognizes our differences and our common identity.

But of course, that has been replaced by “in god we trust”, which just emphasizes the fact that it is not in religion’s power to unite, only to divide.

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