Tag Archives: psychology

How do you spell God-fearing? B-O-O-B-S!

Don’t believe me?  Check out this ad taken from a Christian blog for a Christian dating service.  Yeah, I’m guessing “chaste” is not one of the hopes held for this girl by Christian guys wanting to date her…Christian dating ad

Cheap point aside, there’s actually a more fundamental point I’d like to make here.  After all, dear visitor, you don’t come here merely to be entertained, but to be informed, right?

It’s well-known that for many Christians, evolution is a dirty word, with around half rejecting the theory in favor of creationism.  Ever notice, however, that they in fact act in accordance with its principals, as our ad explicitly suggests?  Traits like good looks, wealth, youth, or an ideal body are absent from lists of what makes a Godly mate, yet what do we see?  Christians desiring and selecting mates with precisely those traits, for reasons explained only by evolution.  But, Christians retort, the Bible doesn’t rule those qualities out either.  True, yet according to the theology, they should play no role; it’s the inner qualities that matter – God-fearing, virtuous, trustworthy and trusting, faithful, humble, etc. – not the outwardly or “worldly” ones.  Thus, we should see the attractive paired with the ugly, rich with poor, fit with fat, young with old, able with infirm – all in combinations wholly at odds with evolutionary psychology – because external appearances do not necessarily reflect the most esteemed personality traits.  If creationism, not evolution, is true, such qualities should hardly be a factor in choosing a mate.  Yet, they are.  Christian creationists are virtually indistinguishable from outsiders in the qualities they actually choose in a spouse.Sarah and Todd Palin

As far as I’m aware, no Christian creationist website has an explanation for why this is.  Perhaps they’d say it’s all covered under “the Fall,” which has made everyone, including themselves, incline to behave according to evolutionary instincts—which instincts of course originated with Satan, along with the rest of evilu…er, evolution. My guess is that creationists don’t want to tangle with the conundrum of why God would make certain people more desirably endowed physically when he says all the important traits are the invisible ones.  The cognitive dissonance for Muslim creationists must be especially acute.  Here Allah creates the female physical form and then orders his followers to cover it all up.Olsteens

Christian creationists, as in so much else, let’s see you practice what you preach!

The natural basis of religion

Those of us who reject the claim that supernatural deities are behind the establishment of any religion must necessarily believe in a natural basis for religious belief.  Fortunately, fueled by a cross-disciplinary approach, scientific inquiry into this question has significantly advanced over the last decade, and is now producing some very plausible hypotheses.  A recent article in the journal Nature, Religion: Bound to believe, explores the latest understanding into the cognitive-evolutionary basis of religion.  Its author, Pascal Boyer, concludes
Continue reading The natural basis of religion

Christian, read your Bible!

Strange, isn’t it?

Why am I, an atheist, encouraging Christians to read their holy book?  Shouldn’t I be telling them to toss it aside instead?

No, for a very simple reason with which fellow skeptics would wholeheartedly agree: the Bible debunks itself.  It is this I believe which lies at the bottom of the highly shallow knowledge Christians exhibit about a work they, on the surface at least, maintain is either “inspired” or “authored” (depending on their sectarian persuasion) by the creator of the universe.  Modern ethics have evolved so far beyond many of those laid down in the Bible – even those held by most Christians – that pastors and Bible instructors understandably pass over the large swathes of scripture which run contrary to them.  It is not easy, for example, to reconcile the popular narrative of a god who loves children with one who murders them (e.g., Exodus 12:29; 1 Samuel 15:2-3, etc.).  The apologetic disassembling required to harmonize such examples of God’s schizophrenic personality is truly herculean.

There is another, more self-serving reason for Christians’ growing Biblical amnesia.  If you lead a flock of believers for whom the Bible is the literal Word of God, a position as its sole authoritative interpreter affords tremendous power.  The Catholic Church recognized this truth long ago by severely restricting the teaching of Latin, which the Bible was written in for most of its existence, and banning its private possession and mass production.  Today’s Christian clergy and leaders need not resort to such drastic measures; soft-censorship and the repetitive harping on a few chosen themes accomplishes much of the same.  Every Christian knows God surely detests homosexuality, but to learn He just as surely condemns shrimp and cotton-polyester blends rather deflates belief.

This is not to say that Bible-reading automatically converts one into skepticism, but that it can lead one down such a road.  The idea is to create enough cognitive dissonance that the believer is forced to relieve it by conducting a fuller investigation of the Bible, which, thanks to the ubiquity of information on the internet, is more easily accomplished than ever before.  It’s true, only a handful will end up rejecting their religion, while another handful will end up more faithful than ever before, but anecdotal evidence suggests that the former is far likelier to happen than the latter.  Still, those who become hardcore, fire-and-brimstone literalists indirectly help the skeptic’s cause as Christianity subsequently becomes increasingly associated with intolerance and hypocrisy.

A third possible outcome is just as important.  Having been exposed to the vast diversity of scholarly views on the Bible, both from within Christianity and outside it, the believer becomes less confident of its claims, increasingly interpreting them as metaphors rather than dogmatic truth.  From there, it’s not a great leap to rejecting them altogether, though the process proceeds piecemeal.  Europe may very well be a harbinger of such a trend, where polls show an increasing divergence in beliefs between clergy and laity.  Many fundamentalist Christians recognize this slippery slope towards skepticism, consequently insisting on literal interpretations and upholding inerrancy at a time when such positions are wholly untenable.

How unorthodox it must be to the lay Christian mind to be told by a non-believer to study their Bible.  The suggestion alone is a powerful message, disarming in its invitation to simply examine the basis of their religion.  “What do they know that I don’t?”  While there are some efforts by believers to improve Bible knowledge, I think those skeptics who were former theologians and apologists can and should join in by ensuring that a complete picture is presented.  But even those who are less proficient in Bible studies can assist, by 1) reading the Bible themselves (a good place to start is at The Scripture Project) and 2) improving one’s knowledge about the Bible, both from critical and Christian liberal scholars (who often debunk themselves).  When skeptics demonstrate superior knoweldge of the Bible to believers, not just about scripture but how and why it was created, the effect can only be disconcerting.

The Bible consistently remains the number one best-selling book.  Christian, time to brush the dust off yours and start reading it today, so the next time your pastor or bishop tells you things like “God defines marriage as the union of one man and one woman,” you can firmly correct his nonsense, citing God’s long support of polygamy.  Won’t that be fun?

Why you can’t get enough scandal

Nothing titillates and arouses like a good scandal, particularly if it involves sex, betrayal, or avarice.  The question is why.  Among the array of the things that do or could impact us, why are we more interested in a scandal which touches us only in the remotest sense?

One evolutionary psychologist believes he has an answer.  In a recent Washington Post article, Why Fluff-Over-Substance Makes Perfect Evolutionary Sense, Hank Davis from the University of Guelph in Ontario explains that the primal parts of our brains evolved long ago when knowing information about “who needs a favor, who is in a position to offer one, who is trustworthy, who is a liar, who is available sexually, who is under the protection of a jealous partner, who is likely to abandon a family, who poses a threat to us” conferred survival advantages.  Yes, our brains have become more complex since then, but these primal parts still remain as instinctual guides.

Sounds very plausible, so far.  But the article goes on to suggest,

[I]f the evolutionary psychologists are correct, people will tend to choose leaders they can relate to personally — and reject the leaders with whom they cannot see having a personal relationship.

This is true, but I don’t think it’s necessarily for the reasons the evolutionary psychologists propose.  Earlier in the article, it was mentioned that questions over the military service of John F. Kennedy and George W. Bush dogged these two politicians for years, yet that didn’t prevent them from being politically successful, as the model might have predicted.  And consider Bill Clinton, who long battled accusations, some of which turned out to be true, over sexual infidelity.  He also lied about his dalliances.  This cost him dearly among some, but for the most part, voters looked the other way–again, contrary to the model. (I could go on…*cough*DC’s Marion Barry*cough*).

Instead, I think perhaps our values wield a stronger influence over our perceptions of others, and our receptivity to them.  If I, for example, value economic equality, I’ll be more receptive to thinking I could have a personal relationship with politicians who share it, and overlook whatever “character flaws” they may have.  These values don’t necessarily have to be public policy-oriented, but policy proposals should be framed in general value terms, e.g., “the minimum wage is a question of fairness” or “the war on terror is about protecting our families”.

As much as I like their theory, I don’t think the evolutionary psychologists have got it quite right.