The impact of religion

I forget what it was, but the other day I was reminded of an experience I had as a Christian, many years ago. I was listening to a preacher talk about the creation and Adam and Eve, and he mentioned almost in passing that, “God created Eve from one of Adam’s ribs, and that’s why to this day women have one more rib than men.”

Do you know, I believed that for years before it occurred to me that it might not be true. I simply never questioned it. I heard it from an authority I trusted, and I never imagined that it might not be true. Plus it reinforced my religious faith, so I had even less reason to question it at the time.

I’m not sure there’s any really profound lesson to be gleaned from my experience, but it does go to show religion’s power to misinform and keep people misled long after they’re old enough to really know better.


  1. Holms says

    If god made Adam with n ribs, why would his children inherit n-1? Human skeletons have been available for examination for all this time, why would the ancients believe men have less ribs than women when they can just count them? This strikes me as being a product of the relatively recent surge in anti-intellectual sentiment.

    Anyway, oddly enough I had heard this belief from even my non-religious (but not atheist) friends; I was in university for a biology degree at the time, and my report that the number of ribs is equal between the sexes brought incredulity.

  2. says

    This is a lesson in the security software of the mind. As children our minds have no security model, we accept all incoming data as trusted. Eventually we build up enough information that we can compare incoming data against data we already have, and when duplicate conflicting data is received, we begin to experience cognitive dissonance.

    In the case of something like the number of ribs men and women have, unless you go into a medical field you’re probably not going to be given a number despite the fact that anyone can just physically count your own ribs. In addition, people are conditioned not to say things that “offend” others, so we don’t normally experience cognitive dissonance.

    There are different ways of coping with cognitive dissonance: the simplest way is to evaluate data based on who you trust more. The second way is reinforcement, because at some point you have to deal with different people with uncertain levels of trust by blocking them out of your life when they cause you to experience cognitive dissonance and running to sources of reinforcement of false ideas to wash away those feelings. Then once you feel a level of comfort with your reinforcement, you go into warrior mode looking for people who disagree and trying to change their minds by parroting the reinforcement to them. This of course always goes very badly. The only proper way to deal with cognitive dissonance is to trace data to its source and the methodology of obtaining it. If the data has one source and little to no methodology, then the data is not trustworthy regardless of how much you trust the individual who gave it to you.

    The thing about the number of ribs people have is that everyone has ribs and they are easily countable. People don’t count them primarily because doing so calls into question the credibility of the person who told you. In order to do something like this you have to be prepared to tear down the trust infrastructure of your entire life. This scares the hell out of most people. It sounds like trusting no one, a popular phrase among conspiracy nuts who in fact do trust people, the wrong people, but actually it’s not, it’s the re-evaluation of the method of establishing trust based on evidence instead of social dynamics. We still rely heavily on social dynamics, we trust scientists because we know they tend to use the scientific method, but scientists still fail us and we let them. Even those of us who know how to tell if information is reliable or not are always ready to accept what we want to be true.

    • Deacon Duncan says

      That’s really frustrating. As far as I can tell I’ve enabled everything I have access to that seems remotely connected to logging in. I have no idea why or how this could continue to be a problem.

      • says

        This problem is systemic across FTB. Even though I log in at Richard Carrier’s blog, the login buttons there don’t work either for the same reasons, but his login is different from yours. On your blog page the different site buttons are there at the bottom, but on his blog, you have “you must be logged in” link which takes me to a different login page. On that page the G+ button works, but not here. Facebook used to work but doesn’t anymore on either blog. I tried a few other blogs and they seem to use either a login like yours or a login like Richard’s and all fail the same way.

        According to the WordPress banner, I’m always on Richard Carrier’s blog no matter which blog I log in on, there is only a dashboard for Richard Carrier’s blog, and it only shows activity from his blog, and I see no way to add any of the other sites to it.

  3. Ethan Myerson says

    Oh my god, the solution to the North Carolina bathroom crisis has been staring us in the face THIS WHOLE TIME. Religionists believe that men and women have different numbers of ribs. And they believe that it’s VERY IMPORTANT that we separate men and women in public restrooms. The solution is obvious! You count the ribs! If you have the Men number of ribs, go to the men’s room; and if you have the women number, you go to the women’s room.


  4. rjw1 says

    I often read comments from people who lose their faith and become atheists.

    I can’t remember as an adult, ever being anything but an atheist and I was educated at a Christian school. Perhaps some people simply don’t have the ‘gene for religion’ — it always seemed complete nonsense.

    • says

      For me and I know a lot of other people, finding religion is like stepping on a landmine while you are lost in the wilderness of a personal existential crisis. These landmines are deliberately set all over the place for this purpose and a core part of the church is to send missions to disasters to provide “relief” as a cover for coerced conversion. Many people are not raised with any knowledge of the Bible, even in religious households, but even after having read the Bible I was still taken in because it doesn’t matter how nonsensical it seems to the sober mind. The Bible contains not very well hidden brainwashing techniques designed to weaken the mind’s defenses and take advantage of already weakened minds. Most people simply have little or no mental security anyway. Someone tells them to think this and immediately they do. For others you have to put them under extreme stress for long periods before they do. God is punishing you because you’re a sinner. You couldn’t possibly make up an easier to believe lie to manipulate people into doing whatever you want.

    • jh says

      It could be that your particular family culture was liberal. But imagine if everybody you knew and trusted was a believer. That you went to church and your extended family and friends were there as well. Imagine if you were a member of a minority group such as black americans – where the pressure to be religious is even higher. Sure, there may be one or two that pass through and go “i’m not buying that”. But that ignores the high percentage who trust their parents and their uncles, and their aunts, and their grandparents, and their teachers and everyone around them.

      In essence – you would be living in a bubble and you would never think to question why you believe what you believe. In fact, often, you are taught to disregard the other people (catholics, muslims, jews) as lost or potentially demonic.

      It’s not hard to understand why you might stay in a religion. It’s part of your cultural background. It takes energy and strength to push yourself out of that bubble.

      for what it’s worth – I was educated in a christian school. I was an active member of church. It took me a long time to realize that I was wrong. My family is super religious. I have several family members who are ministers. We were the type to have bible studies in addition to the normal church services. Even secular holidays were made religious. We sang hymns at home. We had (and still do in many of my relative’s homes) a bible in almost every room. Even now, at every single family occasion, one of my religious elders will stand up and preach a short 5-10 minute mini sermon before a group prayer. Sometimes I look at myself and go “How the hell did I manage to become an atheist?”

  5. anat says

    Francis Crick had the same misconception, and he was raised secular. (He tells of it in ‘What Mad Pursuit’)

  6. Owlmirror says

    It’s perfectly understandable for someone secular or atheist who is ignorant of skeletal anatomy to believe that rib count is (or might be) a genuine example of sexual dimorphism, and that the myth in Genesis was crafted to account for this putative difference between the sexes.

    As a different example, just because you don’t believe that an angel put his finger under the middle of your nose right before you were born (video, currently here) doesn’t mean that the philtrum doesn’t exist.

    However, someone reading reports about identifying people from skeletal remains (for crime scenes and archaeological analyses, for example), should probably notice that those working with the remains never mention using rib count as a way to distinguish skeletons between male and female, and infer that maybe the rib count difference is itself a myth.

  7. inquisitiveraven says

    There’s a login option in the sidebar right under the site search box. I used it successfully, but I think it’s strictly the FTB account login.

    • inquisitiveraven says

      Okay, just logged out and logged back in, and it defaults to the FTB login (which is separate from the login), but provides links for other options.

  8. says

    Although that looks like the login page I see when I’m on Richard Carrier’s blog, it doesn’t actually work for me and it has a different URL.

    Does not work:

    Coincidentally the same link on Richard Carrier’s blog does not work either:

    What works is the link in the comments section of Richard Carrier’s blog:

    I manage my company’s WordPress site and there are many more login options available. We have the OneAll Social Login plugin. On my site you can login with Disqus, Reddit, Twitter, OpenID, StackExchange, LinkedIn, LiveJournal and more. But you have to register applications with each site and apparently the FTB application registered with Facebook is not activated. Someone with administrator rights needs to reactivate the Facebook application on I don’t think the non-plus (blue) Google login is supported any more because only the red Google+ appears on my site.

    When I logged in with Yahoo it created a new account for me with Alethian Worldview on the dashboard instead of accessing my existing account. When I clicked on the dashboard on Richard Carrier’s blog it told me I don’t have authorization to access Richard Carrier’s dashboard. Someone with administrator rights needs to do some work, allow people to subscribe to multiple blogs here, and fix the broken logins.

  9. Jim B says

    The wikipedia page on the rib cage does mention that the usual rib count of 24 ribs is violated by having an extra rib, and there is a higher tendency for it in women than men, but it is still a fraction of a percent of all people who have it.

    Variations in the number of ribs occur. About 1 in 200-500 people have an additional cervical rib, and there is a female predominance. Intrathoracic supernumerary ribs are extremely rare. Bifid or bifurcated ribs, in which the sternal end of the rib is cleaved in two, is a congenital abnormality occurring in about 1.2% of the population. The rib remnant of the 7th cervical vertebra on one or both sides is occasionally replaced by a free extra rib called a cervical rib, which can cause problems in the nerves going to the arm.

    In several ethnic groups, most significantly the Japanese, the tenth rib is sometimes a floating rib, as it lacks a cartilaginous connection to the seventh rib.

Leave a Reply to inquisitiveraven Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *