End of 2013 Links and Comments

It’s been busy over the holidays, with family events and whatnot, so here is a belated list of links and comments from the past couple weeks.

Salon: 10 signs that religious fundamentalism is going down

One could hope. Religious fundamentalism isn’t doing the world any good. Some of the 10:

3. Biblical sexuality is getting binned. Finally.
7. The Religious Right is licking wounds.
8. Texas is evolving!

HuffPo: Word of the Year — Science: Fact vs. Fiction

This says that Merriam Webster announced its selection of “science” as its word of the year for 2013. It has to do with lookups online for the word “science”, not so much for interest in science as

by the pushback and intensifying struggle for supremacy between the forces for empiricism and evidence versus those for beliefs and opinions — a fight between good and evil if you will, or evil and good — depending on where one stands or sits on the issue.

With references to books by Daniel Kahneman and Thomas Gilovich.

The recent discussion of cognitive biases isn’t totally new; here’s a Boing Boing link to a 1995 speech by Charlie Munger, a respected investor and partner to Warren Buffet:

Twenty Four Standard Causes of Human Misjudgement

Slate: The “Known World” from 2348 B.C. to A.D. 1828, in the Form of a Single GIF

A fascinating animated graphic that shows how the ‘known world’ — according to Greeks, Romans, and Europeans, of course — has expanded over the past 4500 years. It makes plausible the Biblical view that Jewish sheepherder tribes of the Old Testament era might have thought themselves the center of creation. But since 1828, our understanding of the universe has expanded enormously.

Prominent author Ian Barbour died this past week; Science on Religion has a remembrance.

As Kurt Vonnegut put it in his novel Breakfast of Champions:

Ideas on Earth were badges of friendship or enmity. Their content did not matter. Friends agreed with friends, in order to express friendliness. Enemies disagreed with enemies, in order to express enmity.

This simple dynamic explains much of why belief in evolution is declining among Republicans (from 54% in 2009 to 43% today, only four years later) while it’s increasing among Democrats (from 64% to 67% in the same period). The evidence for evolution is beyond overwhelming, so the problem isn’t that the scientific case hasn’t been made. The problem is that our culture is becoming increasingly polarized along James Hunter’s “orthodox” and “progressive” lines, and  people are more and more signing up wholesale for the cluster of beliefs they associate with their preferred worldview – and against the groups they don’t want to belong to.

[bold emphasis mine]

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