An Example of Regression to the Mean

Friendly Atheist alerts us to this
well intentioned but pathetic editorial:

Some atheists are harsh in their portrayal of believers, calling God an imaginary friend. They call religion a virus, a hoax that brainwashes people. Well, the truth is, some brains need a good washing […]

Many Christians respect the separation of church and state while others have fought to keep nativity scenes on government property and set up Christmas trees in public schools. The atheist groups want to see the pendulum move, so they gave it a big swing. One billboard shows Santa saying, “Yes Virginia … there is no God.”

That’s just mean.

Let’s see: there are billboards advertising churches all over the place. There are billboards like these:

And that is ok; we have freedom of speech here. Christians ARE entitled to recruit in a manner consistent with free speech principles (e. g., they are not entitled to a captive audience but they can do this).

But we have freedom of speech too, and it is entirely correct to reach out to those who might be like minded but feel closeted (not everyone works in a science department) or to those in the pews asking themselves “do I really believe this?” “Is believing this really virtuous in and of itself?”

Hey, there is a better way!

But as to the title of this post:

Maybe the ads are meant to mock Christians. If so, that’s unfortunate. It reinforces the stereotype that atheists are arrogant, smug people who think they are smarter than religious folks.

Well, we are, on the average, smarter than religious people. Here is why I think this:

Nyborg also co-authored a study with Richard Lynn, emeritus professor of psychology at the University of Ulster, which compared religious belief and average national IQs in 137 countries. [6] The study analysed the issue from several viewpoints. Firstly, using data from a U.S. study of 6,825 adolescents, the authors found that atheists scored 6 g-IQ points higher than those adhering to a religion.

Secondly, the authors investigated the link between religiosity and intelligence on a country level. Among the sample of 137 countries, only 23 (17%) had more than 20% of atheists, which constituted “virtually all… higher IQ countries.” The authors reported a correlation of 0.60 between atheism rates and level of intelligence, which is “highly statistically significant.” This portion of the study uses the same data set as Lynn’s work IQ and the Wealth of Nations.

Commenting on the study in The Daily Telegraph, Lynn said “Why should fewer academics believe in God than the general population? I believe it is simply a matter of the IQ. Academics have higher IQs than the general population. Several Gallup poll studies of the general population have shown that those with higher IQs tend not to believe in God.” [7]

There is this too:

But don’t just take my word for the incompatibility of science and faith — it’s amply demonstrated by the high rate of atheism among scientists. While only 6% of Americans are atheists or agnostics, the figure for American scientists is 64%, according to Rice professor Elaine Howard Ecklund’s book, Science vs. Religion. Further proof: Among countries of the world, there is a strong negative relationship between their religiosity and their acceptance of evolution. Countries like Denmark and Sweden, with low belief in God, have high acceptance of evolution, while religious countries are evolution-intolerant. Out of 34 countries surveyed in a study published in Science magazine, the U.S., among the most religious, is at the bottom in accepting Darwinism: We’re No. 33, with only Turkey below us. Finally, in a 2006 Time poll a staggering 64% of Americans declared that if science disproved one of their religious beliefs, they’d reject that science in favor of their faith.

BUT it is also true that non-believers (agnostics and atheists) form just a small subset of the population and hence CAN be more exclusive (in terms of intelligence or, say, crime rates).

Were the atheist ranks to swell and become a much larger subset of the population, guess what? The average IQ for atheists would drop, the average educational level would drop and the percentage of crimes committed by atheists would go up. That’s just the law of large numbers.

True, I think that our view of reality is superior, but we really aren’t better people. We are merely a wealthier, more educated than average group in the United States. We are a numerically more exclusive group.

Just for grins, here is one of those billboards:

I’ll make a couple of remarks:

1. Many church goers sleep later than I do when I am training for an ultra. 🙂
2. There appear to be some health benefits to belonging to a church:

Would social support from joining groups such as the Rotary Club or Hospital Auxiliary show the same health benefits in longer life as going to church? The researchers discovered that this was not so when analyzing other social support and meeting attendance. However, they noted that, although substituting other clubs for church failed to help people live longer, a “complementary” effect appeared. Persons who engaged in volunteer work along with attending religious services were even more likely to live longer.

The researchers analyzed an extensive range of factors that could affect health as other explanations for why those attending religious services might live longer. These included age, sex, race, ethnic group, income, education, and employment; chronic diseases like stroke, heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and other illnesses; physical functioning and driving status; health habits such as exercise, drinking, smoking, body fat, and seeking medical care; social participation, activities, marital status, health of spouse, and having confidants; and psychological status like depression and fearfulness.

“Even after controlling for six classes of potential confounding and intervening variables, we were unable to explain the protection against mortality offered by religious attendance,” the researchers concluded. Their finding supports other studies that showed attending religious services was linked with lower blood pressure, fewer deaths from cardiovascular disease, less depression, and a decrease in earlier death from all causes. “A broad implication is that religious and health organizations can develop closer collaborations on health prevention campaigns. The tenfold increase in the past three years in number of medical schools offering instruction in religious and spiritual issues indicates a growing medical interest.”

I can say that churches teach techniques that can give someone peace (e. g., prayer, meditation, and some eastern religions teach yoga) and I do NOT deny the effectiveness of such practices, nor do I deny the benefits to belonging to a tightly knit group. And yes, churches (at least some churches) are one of the few places where someone challenges you to live a better life and to help others.

And if your local UU Church (which I used to belong to) were not so tolerant of woo, I’d probably still go when I could.
But nothing can bring me to say that I respect the “healing power of a crystal” or the belief that swinging a pendulum over a pill can determine whether you need the pill any more than I could say that I respect the belief that someone was born of a virgin, died, and was supernaturally brought back to life again.

But back to the recruiting: this might be a reason to recruit. Perhaps groups of atheists “who miss church but not the superstition” could meet regularly and derive some of the same benefits.


December 12, 2010 Posted by | atheism, creationism, evolution, religion, science, superstition | 4 Comments

12 December 2010 Football

Football From the Bears-Patriots game:

33-0, Patriots, AT THE HALF. True, Chicago turnovers were converted into 13 points (two field goals, fumble run in), got a long punt return, and there was a 59 yard touchdown pass on the final play of the half.

We aren’t getting the Rams-Saints game here and that is just as well; the Rams are down 21-6 at the half.
I did see the Green Bay-Detroit game; this was a bruising defensive battle. The Packer quarterback was knocked out the game with a hard, legal hit. The first score of the game came 5 minutes into the second half (Packer field goal). Later, the Lions intercepted a pass in the end zone (thrown from the Lion 8) and eventually, the Lions scored on a drive with 7 minutes to go in the game. That’s how it ended: 7-3.
The Packers had it in the red zone with 4’th and 1 with 1 minute left, but tried for a long pass (they had no time outs) and missed. The Lions got the ball and ran out the clock.

(photos from yahoo)

December 12, 2010 Posted by | football, NFL | Leave a comment

12 December 2010 Blizzard Edition Part II

The Blizzard is weird…some small patches have little snow (driveway); others are buried. The win is hard and swirling; it as if we are living in an engineering wind tunnel.

Shoulder It hurt last night; doing overhead lifts just isn’t working. I’ll have to cut out the lat pull downs and all overhead stuff that isn’t very, very, very light. Curls, rows, and perhaps some incline presses are ok.

Workout notes I went to the gym; 3 miles AMT,
3.12 mile run on the treadmill (10:05, 19:45, 29:25, 30:20 total). I started off with a 10 minute mile and 0 elevation and increased the speed to 9:40 by the end of mile 1; I added .5 to the elevation every 400 meters until I got to 4 and kept it there for the final mile and lowered it for the last .12 miles.
Then I did 1.1 miles (10 minutes) on the elliptical.
Then 3 miles (24 laps) of the indoor track walking; 41 minutes total.

The gym was not crowded.

Football notes
I am watching the Lions-Packers. The first half ended 0-0 and the Green Bay quarterback was knocked out of the game in the first half. 5 minutes into the second half the Packers got a field goal. Then the Packers threw an interception inside the Detroit 8.
But with 7:55 left in the game, the Lions finished off a long drive to go up 7-3. Right now, the Lion defensive line is dominating play on both running and passing plays. This is a hard hitting defensive struggle.

Note: on 4’th and 1, the Packers went for it with a deep pass; it missed and now the Lions have the ball with 57 seconds to go.

Science/Technology; the Navy has successfully fired a electromagnetic gun; this has the potential to fire a shell 100 plus miles. This also means that, potentially, ships can do away with the need to store gunpowder; that makes things a whole lot safer.

Note: there is some potential to use such a device to launch a satellite or something else into outer space.

Another classic from Pat Condell

He makes some solid points.

Nate Silver talks about the relationship that President Obama has with liberals. The last paragraph is very interesting. First:

A new poll from Marist University is suggestive of a potential worst-case scenario for President Obama. As he endures criticism from his left over his handling of the tax policy debate with Republicans, his approval rating has declined among liberals,

He notes that this is based on a small sample size and the the Gallup has yet to release its demographic break down from its latest poll. He then notes:

Moreover, as we’ve noted previously, liberal dissatisfaction with Mr. Obama may not translate into a willingness to vote against him in 2012. In the Marist poll, Mr. Obama won the support of between 78 and 85 percent of both liberals and Democrats against a group of three potential Republican presidential nominees: Mitt Romney, Sarah Palin, and Mike Huckabee. Essentially, about half the liberals and half the Democrats who disapproved of Mr. Obama’s job performance in the poll were nevertheless unwilling to vote against him for re-election (at least provided that one of those three Republicans was his opponent).

Finally, the tax compromise was presumably not intended as a short-term political fix. One benefit to Mr. Obama, instead, could come in the medium term, as most economists expect the proposal to boost the economy over the next two years, at the expense of increasing long-term deficits.

Ok, fair enough. But here is the most interesting part:

One theory of mine is that Mr. Obama — if one assumes that he is a liberal himself — sees less need to hedge his words when speaking to other liberals, in the same way that most of us tend to speak more bluntly to friends and family members than to relative strangers. But liberals — just like moderates and conservatives — formulate their impressions of the president based on a combination of intellectual and emotional factors, and their view of politics may not be so emotionally detached as Mr. Obama’s sometimes seems to be. And few voters of any kind would be pleased if it feels as though their support is being taken for granted.

Emphasis mine. There might be a lesson here. Remember President George W. Bush? If you really look at it, he delivered very little to social conservatives. The rich got their wars (which their offspring doesn’t normally fight anyway) and their tax cuts. But on the whole, there was no ban on abortion, no retreat from gay rights (he and President Obama actually see eye to eye here); the only thing they got was SCOTUS nominations; and these guys are really corporate shills anyway (pro-big business). The got a defense of marriage act. That’s it.

But, President Bush spoke to them as if he liked them and valued them, even if their agenda wasn’t really his agenda.
On the other hand, President Obama HAS taken on much of what liberals want and delivered much more for us (though not nearly all that we wanted). But he fusses at us in public. Aw. 🙂

In short, we’ve gotten more of what we wanted from “our guy”, but are far less pleased. Go figure.

Oh yeah…the rich continue to win. But guess what? They always win and there isn’t much that we can do about it.

December 12, 2010 Posted by | 2010 election, 2012 election, atheism, Barack Obama, Democrats, Peoria, Peoria/local, political/social, politics, politics/social, religion, republicans, republicans political/social, republicans politics, rich, running, science, shoulder rehabilitation, space, training, walking, weight training | Leave a comment

12 December Blizzard Edition

Watch the latest breaking news, politics, entertainment and offbeat videos everyone is talking about at Get informed now!

Vodpod videos no longer available. Video, posted with vodpod

This is one of the liberal positions. Note: I am giving up on the Olbermann show for a while and am watching Parker-Spitzer instead. My take: I like the fact that they present many different views, but I wish they would present fewer topics and cover them more in depth.

More video:
Some of the facts in the US are different (we have stronger free speech protections) but much of this applies:

Sarah Palin’s Alaska Show
I caught most of an episode last night. Actually, it wasn’t all bad; I learned a few things and enjoyed the wildlife shots and learning about the challenges of doing everyday stuff that I don’t normally think about (e. g., the fish processing).

I wish that there had been less focus on her and more, say, discussions with wildlife and nature experts (“here is what you are seeing and why”) but hey, it was ok. I’ve seen far worse.

But as far as her political use of this:

Ms. Palin travels with husband Todd, daughter Piper and niece McKinley for some fishing on the Big Lake River. While floating on the river, the family encounters a group of brown bears. The bears fish, swim … then, one bear starts fighting to protect her territory and her two cubs.

The rival bears growl, snarl and lash out as the babies scamper into the woods.

Sarah and her family view the action from their boat. “Wow,” she says. “Wow … It was amazing to watch. This ‘mama grizzly’ … protecting her cubs!” This seems like an intentional metaphor from Ms. Palin, who has used the ‘mama grizzly’ reference before. The phrase invokes a “common sense” woman who guards her children and her country from harm.

While watching the natural drama, Palin points out how the animals teach their cubs about survival first-hand. “No one else can do it for you,” she concludes, focusing on the the bears’ self-reliance.

THAT is a debate I’d love to have. How well would those bears do if the government didn’t clamp down on industries polluting their environment, poisoning their food supplies, taking over their lands or allowing for uncontrolled hunting? How well would they do if there was uncontrolled climate change? Would we put up with people dying of diseases that basic scientific research could easily cure? Do we want to have the same mortality rate for ourselves that the bears have? In the wild, the sick weak and lame bears die. Do we want this Malthusian society ethic for ourselves?

But politics aside, the show isn’t that bad and she does a reasonably good job of hosting it.

Science, Evolution and Frogs
Evolution in action: Frogs evolve a defense against a killer fungus:

FROGS across Australia and the US may be recovering from a fungal disease that has devastated populations around the world.

“It’s happening across a number of species,” says Michael Mahony at the University of Newcastle in New South Wales, who completed a 20-year study of frogs along the Great Dividing Range in Australia for the Earthwatch Institute. Between 1990 and 1998 the populations of several frog species crashed due to chytridiomycosis infection (chytrid) caused by the pathogen Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, but Mahony’s surveys suggest that the frogs are re-establishing.

Barred river frogs (Mixophyes esiteratus) disappeared, he says, but now up to 30 of the animals have returned to streams across Australia’s Central Coast. The tusked-frog (Adelotus) and several tree frog species (Litoria) have also returned there. Ross Alford at James Cook University in Townsville, Queensland, says tree frogs are also repopulating other areas of the state after their numbers nosedived. Some have even reached pre-infection levels.

In the US there are also signs of recovery. Roland Knapp at Sierra Nevada Aquatic Research Laboratory at the University of California says mountain yellow-legged frogs (Rana muscosas) – once “driven virtually to extinction” – are returning. The big question is: are frogs now beating chytrid?

Using electronic tagging to track frogs, Knapp (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0912886107) and Mahony have separately found that recovering frogs are living with low-level infections of the fungus.

It is possible, they say, that the fungus has weakened in recovering areas. Knapp says there is evidence that the frogs are evolving. Initial findings from his team show that frogs from recovered populations can survive when challenged with a fungal strain, unlike frogs with no previous exposure to the fungus, which died after it colonised their skin.

My guess: frogs have been around for 200 million years. Perhaps one reason is that they have the ability to adapt; that is, they are good at evolving to meet new challenges? Note: I am not a biologist so this is a “peanut gallery” guess.

Professor Krugman presents evidence that what we have is a demand problem.

Here is one person’s take on why President Obama can’t blow up at Republicans in public: it is the “angry black man” thing. Frankly, I like it that we have a President who can keep his cool; his even headed deportment is one reason I backed him to begin with.


Other countries have social programs. We have Republicans.

December 12, 2010 Posted by | biology, Democrats, economics, evolution, nature, Peoria, Peoria/local, political/social, politics, politics/social, poor, poverty, religion, republicans, republicans political/social, republicans politics, sarah palin, science | Leave a comment