Fundamentalism, Spirituality, and IQ

September 5, 2011 37 comments

Why are some people religious? Putting aside arguments over whether the claims of particular religions have factual validity or not (up-front declaration: I’m an atheist), the existence of wildly varying degrees of religious sensibility in every society studied is quite perplexing for psychologists, sociologists and anthropologists. Some colleagues and I have just had a paper published (PDF here) which attempts to provide a piece of this puzzle, focusing on the relationship between religious beliefs and general intelligence, or IQ.

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Evidence-based Masturbation (or, The Science of Porn)

August 16, 2011 15 comments

This is the blog version of a talk I gave on August 13, 2011, at Skeptics on the Fringe at the Edinburgh Festival. 

‘Porn’, to quote journalism professor and anti-pornography activist Robert Jensen, ‘is what the end of the world looks like’. I must admit that, until I read this statement (from this book), I rather thought that the apocalypse would be more of the meteor-striking, sun-exploding, fiery-death kind. Instead, Jensen seems to think armageddon will come in an avalanche of breast enhancements, fake grunting, and peroxide.

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Irrelevant Design

January 13, 2011 Leave a comment

This was posted ages ago at The 21st Floor, but for completeness I’m going to put it here too.

Don’t get your flagellum in a knot, but here’s another post about creationism. As promised in a previous post, some friends and I visited Glasgow Caledonian University to see Michael Behe’s talk, ‘Darwin or Design?’, hosted by our dear friends at the Centre for Intelligent Design. It was, in a word, appalling. Here’s why.

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Oh, Behe-ave!

October 4, 2010 6 comments

The Behe-ast awakens. A Behe-moth of the Intelligent Design movement. Beep Behe-ep – move over, Darwin! You’re nothing more than an old has-Behe-en. And so on.

As you no doubt already know, Glasgow has recently become the victim of a new and particularly unpleasant infestation – creationism. I say ‘new’, but the positions of the group in question, the ‘Centre for Intelligent Design’, appear to be almost entirely based on worn-out arguments dragged from the dog-eared pages of Intelligent Design books of yore, like William Dembski’s ‘No Free Lunch’ and Michael Behe’s ‘Darwin’s Black Box’.

Which brings me back to that delightfully punnably-named Intelligent Design celeb, Prof. Michael Behe. He’s coming to Glasgow! And he’s giving a talk on ‘what the science really says’ about evolution. So he must be going to say ‘evolution is a scientific fact, the basic mechanisms of which are not doubted by any non-perverse human being’, right? Right? Oh.

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Game Over

May 14, 2010 1 comment

Let’s not get off on the wrong foot, here: technology is great. I for one simply love flushing toilets, 24-hour rolling news, and spray-on condoms. But despite the near-unimaginable number of problems solved by stellar inventions like these, technology isn’t always the answer. Bear that in mind as we investigate the shiny, sparkly world of ‘brain training’ computer games.

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Have the Lunatics Taken Over the Asylum? Part 3

April 8, 2010 5 comments

The, er, dramatic conclusion to my DSM5 series for The 21st Floor.

Part 3: The medicalisation of rape? (with apologies)

The DSM-IV makes an interesting definitional decision which may seem a bit peculiar at first. A mental condition is normally only defined as a ‘disorder’ if it causes the sufferer ‘clinically significant distress’. Normally at the end of each list of symptoms, this proviso is mentioned – if it doesn’t cause distress, it’s not a disorder. There’s an interesting philosophical argument to be had on this issue – what exactly IS a disorder? – but for now we’ll look at one specific example.

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Have the Lunatics Taken Over the Asylum? Part 2

The second part of my DSM5 article for The 21st Floor.

Part 2: Post-Traumatic Stress… Disorder?

Everyone knows about Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Surprisingly for something so widely-known, it’s only been around in the psychiatric manuals since 1980. In a major difference from many other psychiatric disorders, we know precisely its cause – ‘an event or events that involved actual or threatened death or serious injury, or a threat to the physical integrity of self or others’ (as the DSM-IV states). The symptoms include recurrent memories or dreams of the event, the feeling that the event is happening again and again, and ‘intense psychological distress’. The question, however, is this: how valid is PTSD as a distinct disorder, aside from anxiety, depression, phobias, and other problems we already know about?

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