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Covers the causes and effects of religion and non-belief, with a focus on psychology and social science.

Tom Rees
295 posts

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  • October 12, 2015
  • 09:51 PM

What do people think God is actually like?

by Tom Rees in Epiphenom

The ancient Greek philosopher Xenophanes once scathingly pointed out that people imagine god to be pretty much like themselves: But mortals suppose that gods are born, wear their own clothes and have a voice and body. Ethiopians say that their gods are snub-nosed and black; Thracians that theirs are are blue-eyed and red-haired. Christian tend [Read More...]... Read more »

  • October 7, 2015
  • 12:50 PM

In a just world, how you act depends on who you think delivers justice

by Tom Rees in Epiphenom

Many years ago I worked a couple of seasons as a porter on the now-defunct hovercraft service across the English Channel. One of the old hands used to tell me regularly that “what you lose on the swings, you make up on the roundabouts” – a phrase that’s stuck with me ever since. What he [Read More...]... Read more »

  • September 30, 2015
  • 09:40 PM

Does more education mean more, or less, religion? It depends whether you take intelligence into account.

by Tom Rees in Epiphenom

It’s pretty well established now that there is a statistical connection between intelligence and non-belief. The effect is small, but it’s consistent and has been shown many times. Education, however, is a different matter. Some studies show that educated people are more religious, while others find they are less religious. Now there’s an obvious problem [Read More...]... Read more »

  • September 23, 2015
  • 02:12 PM

Ask students about religion, and they’ll tell you they drink less

by Tom Rees in Epiphenom

Religious people tend to drink less than non-religious people. We know that because, well because when you ask them, that’s what they tell you. But here’s the thing. We know that what people tell interviewers can vary with the circumstances that they find themselves in. Indeed, it can vary quite a lot from reality. People [Read More...]... Read more »

Rodriguez, L., Neighbors, C., & Foster, D. (2014) Priming effects of self-reported drinking and religiosity. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 28(1), 1-9. DOI: 10.1037/a0031828  

  • September 10, 2015
  • 05:41 PM

Does belief that God is in control reduce support for government welfare?

by Tom Rees in Epiphenom

There’s an enduring puzzle about religion and government, and it’s about what effect religions have on government welfare policies. That’s down to an intriguing observation: that more religious countries tend to have a weaker welfare state. Quite why this is so is a matter of dispute. After all, given religion’s association with altruism, you might [Read More...]... Read more »

  • September 9, 2015
  • 09:13 AM

Churchgoing has been on the decline for decades in Western nations: here’s why

by Tom Rees in Epiphenom

It’s a fact that, in the West at least, fewer people are going to religious services than they used to a few decades ago. Countries do follow different trajectories – secularization happened first in the Protestant countries of Northern Europe and Australia, and more recently the Catholic countries of Europe. The Americas have fought the [Read More...]... Read more »

  • July 27, 2015
  • 05:36 PM

Distrust of atheists is widespread and pervasive: more evidence

by Tom Rees in Epiphenom

A new opinion poll has some bad news for atheists. Some 40% of the US population would not consider voting for an atheist presidential candidate, regardless of their policies. That’s fewer than would vote for a gay or lesbian – or even (gasp!) a Muslim! It’s pretty much in accordance with a previous poll which showed that atheism is a bigger no-no for presidential candidates than homosexuality, extra-marital affairs, or drug use.... Read more »

  • July 22, 2015
  • 12:55 PM

That was weird – are you a mind reader? Thinking style affects how we interpret weird experiences.

by Tom Rees in Epiphenom

Psychologists have identified that all of us have two kinds of thinking styles. There’s the slow, deep thinking style where you ponder things for a while before making a decision. And then there’s gut instinct – where you make a decision based on intuition. Some people tend to prefer one kind of thinking style over [Read More...]... Read more »

  • June 1, 2015
  • 10:49 AM

The statistics are clear: a cultural shift away from religion is underway in the USA

by Tom Rees in Epiphenom

From time to time, we see surveys from the USA that suggest an increasing tide of non-affiliation to religion, especially among the young. Taken in isolation, it’s really hard to know what to make of them. Maybe, for example, what we are seeing reflects religious apathy among the young. Maybe it’s simply that people believe [Read More...]... Read more »

  • May 28, 2015
  • 09:33 AM

Live in a religious country? Your work ethic might be different.

by Tom Rees in Epiphenom

One of the seminal pieces of research on religion and society was done in the early 20th century by a guy named Max Weber, who concluded that what he called the ‘Protestant Work Ethic’ helped explain why the countries of Northern Europe and America were so prosperous. It’s a provocative conclusion that later research has shown was [Read More...]... Read more »

  • May 21, 2015
  • 04:05 PM

You can make people less religious by flicking their brain with magnetic pulses

by Tom Rees in Epiphenom

Many years ago, a guy called Michael Persinger achieved a certain amount of fame with a claim that stimulating the right part of the brain with a magnetic field could give people a religious experience. Although others weren’t able to get the same results, studies since then have found that brain damage to parts of [Read More...]... Read more »

  • May 1, 2015
  • 09:28 AM

In the face of discrimination, non-believers commit more strongly to their atheism

by Tom Rees in Epiphenom

It’s widely recognised that atheists are one of the most marginalised groups in the USA. As you might imagine, this can cause all sorts of problems for non-believers. But might it also help explain why the public face of atheism in the USA is so stridently vocal? Many American atheists are passionate about their identity as [Read More...]... Read more »

  • March 24, 2015
  • 05:40 PM

Did belief in ghosts help kick-start civilization?

by Tom Rees in Epiphenom

In a remote highland region of south-eastern Turkey lies the remains of what is possibly the world’s old temple. Dating to 11,000 years ago, it predates even the rise of agriculture – as far as we can tell, it also predates the first complex societies. Now, not all religions are the same. Some (a minority, [Read More...]... Read more »

Watts, J., Greenhill, S., Atkinson, Q., Currie, T., Bulbulia, J., & Gray, R. (2015) Broad supernatural punishment but not moralizing high gods precede the evolution of political complexity in Austronesia. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 282(1804), 20142556-20142556. DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2014.2556  

  • March 19, 2015
  • 01:22 PM

Secular community groups are just as effective as religious ones in stimulating concern for others

by Tom Rees in Epiphenom

Researchers around the world have found that subliminal reminders of religion can have some fairly profound effects (for example, encouraging honesty, obedience, revenge and staying power – and, as we saw in the previous post – even risk taking). But is this specifically about religion? Perhaps being reminded about god makes people virtuous – but [Read More...]... Read more »

  • March 16, 2015
  • 09:18 PM

Thinking about God causes people to take bigger risks… wait, what???

by Tom Rees in Epiphenom

A team from Stanford University Graduate School of Business has just published a nice series of studies showing that priming people with the idea of god can increase their appetite for risk. Over at the Friendly Atheist, Rachel Ford did a good write up, leading with the headline conclusion that thinking about god actually causes [Read More...]... Read more »

Noussair, C., Trautmann, S., van de Kuilen, G., & Vellekoop, N. (2013) Risk aversion and religion. Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, 47(2), 165-183. DOI: 10.1007/s11166-013-9174-8  

  • March 15, 2015
  • 09:46 PM

Suicide in Northern Ireland is not linked to religious affiliation

by Tom Rees in Epiphenom

Conventionally, religious affiliation is supposed to reduce the risk of suicide. In fact, the worldwide data show a rather patchy picture, probably because the effects of religion on suicide risk depend on the social context. One of the godfathers of the sociology of religion was a guy named Émile Durkheim. At the tail end of [Read More...]... Read more »

  • February 25, 2015
  • 09:46 PM

Is belief in moral progress a substitute for religion?

by Tom Rees in Epiphenom

There’s a well studied phenomenon called Terror Management Theory which basically says that, when people are reminded of their own death, their beliefs change in certain predictable ways.  People cling more strongly to beliefs that make the future seem more controllable and comfortable – and that includes turning to religion (see: Religion, Patriotism and Death). [Read More...]... Read more »

Rutjens, B., van Harreveld, F., van der Pligt, J., van Elk, M., & Pyszczynski, T. (2014) A march to a better world? Religiosity and the existential function of belief in social-moral progress. The International Journal for the Psychology of Religion, 1-33. DOI: 10.1080/10508619.2014.990345  

  • February 24, 2015
  • 10:15 PM

Most supernatural beliefs are about avoiding harm, not bringing benefit

by Tom Rees in Epiphenom

A survey of supernatural beliefs across cultures around the world has found that beliefs involving hazards and harms were about 50% more common than beliefs about benefits, opportunities and other good things. Daniel Fessler, at the University of California, and colleagues searched a representative dataset of 60 cultures held at the Human Relations Area Files [Read More...]... Read more »

  • February 2, 2015
  • 09:22 PM

Wealth and enlightenment in the Ancient World

by Tom Rees in Epiphenom

The period between the 5th and the 3rd century BCE was a fertile time for the world’s religions. In India, Buddhism and Jainism began to take hold. In China, Confucianism and Daoism likewise attracted mass appeal. And Europe saw the golden age of Greek philosophy. What these movements have in common is that they all [Read More...]... Read more »

  • January 26, 2015
  • 09:54 PM

Why are American Atheists Disagreeable and Unconscientious?

by Tom Rees in Epiphenom

There’s a popular model of personality that splits it into five components: openness to experience, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. And it’s well known that, while atheists tend to score high on openness, they tend to get low scores on conscientiousness and agreeableness. Back in 2010, Vincent Saroglou and colleagues assembled data from all the [Read More...]... Read more »

Gebauer, J., Bleidorn, W., Gosling, S., Rentfrow, P., Lamb, M., & Potter, J. (2014) Cross-cultural variations in Big Five relationships with religiosity: A sociocultural motives perspective. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 107(6), 1064-1091. DOI: 10.1037/a0037683  

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