Scientists identify religious gene, intractable research problem

A giant Pacific octopus, since pictures of scientists are boring. The octopus is the scientist of the sea.

In their ongoing quest to determine why other people believe in stuff that cannot be demonstrated by logic or cutting open a mouse’s brain, scientists have identified a gene that predisposes people toward religious belief. They’ve also identified a classic problem of deductive reasoning. Citing the World Values Survey, Cambridge economist Robert Rowthorn noted that “adults who attended religious services more than once a week had 2.5 children on average; while those who went once a month had two; and those who never attended had 1.67.” From these statistics, he concluded that “the more devout people are, the more children they are likely to have.” Kombat! Kids: can you spot the flaw in Professor Rowthorn’s reasoning? Probably not, because there are only 1.67 of you for both Combat! readers.

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Pew poll finds atheists know more about religion than believers

Not my lawyer!

The Times reports today that atheists and agnostics outperformed believers in a recent survey conducted by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. The survey posed a series of multiple-choice questions about the world religions, the Bible and religious history to randomly-selected respondents, only 8% of whom knew that Maimonides was Jewish. The Pew report is full of fun facts like that, including the news that 45% of Americans believe “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” is one of the Ten Commandments and, from the control questions, “about six in ten Americans can name the vice president of the United States (59%) and understand that lasers do not work by focusing sound waves (60%).”

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Glenn Beck leads religious nationalist rally

God, I wish I had Photoshop.

It’s possible you’ve heard about this, but Glenn Beck held his “Restoring Honor” rally at the Lincoln Memorial on Saturday, drawing anywhere from 87,000 to 1,000,000 middle-class, white conservatives to reclaim the civil rights movement. That’s not fair; it was really to honor American troops and raise money for the Special Operations Warrior Foundation. Except it was actually more of a religious revival. Exactly what Glenn Beck did on Saturday and how many people came to watch him and what the fudge the whole thing might mean is frankly unclear. Fortunately, we had a whole list of questions worked out beforehand.

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Thursday is melt your brain with theo-philosophical reasoning day

Good morning, Christopher Hitchens! I'd like to trade you my argument that a transcendent plenitude of being is the necessary predicate of universal contingency for your rat's ass. No? Not gonna do it?

It’s Thursday, and you know what that means: its time to read theist critiques of the philosophical logic behind contemporary atheism! You don’t remember us doing this every Thursday since the creation of this blog? Well, I do, and the onus is on you to prove that we haven’t. In the meantime, I’ll be running for the local school board. Nah—I’m just messing with you. You can’t prove a negative, unless you use an indirect proof to demonstrate that assuming the negative’s opposite results in a logical contradiction—like, for example, when you point out that an omniscient god could not also be omnipotent, since his certain knowledge of the future would delimit the field of his own actions. That’s one of the many appealing but ultimately bankrupt arguments* for atheism that Eastern Orthodox theologian David Hart mentions in his dense, insightful and enormously infuriating indictment of “the new atheism” in May’s issue of First Things, which I assume is on your coffee table right now. Hart, who is the author of a book called Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies, (beach reading!) contends that the present cottage industry in books indicting religion is a poor, pale imitation of atheism’s great past. He writes like CS Lewis listening to a tape recording of his own voice, but he makes an interesting point. From the standpoint of rigorous logic, contemporary atheism has become sufficiently popular that it needs to start watching its ass.

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Hillbillies to murder South Park over made-up book

The prophet Mohammed, seen here wearing a bear costume in an episode of South Park. He's in there. He's in heaven, too.

Last week, the 200th episode of South Park reprised the show’s Super Best Friends gag, in which the primary figures of various world religions—Jesus, the Buddha, Mohammed, Vishnu, Moses, John Smith and Aquaman—serve as a crime-fighting team a la Hanna-Barbera’s Superfriends. Presumably in satire of the Jyllands-Posten debacle, Mohammed sits in the back of a moving van for most of the new episode, only to finally emerge wearing a bear suit. These expediences were to avoid the Koranic prohibition against visual depictions of the prophet, which a majority of the world’s Muslim’s consider blasphemy. Even though the use of the bear suit clearly satisfies the laws set down for the authors of the Koran by the creator of the universe sixteen centuries ago in anticipation of the invention of television, frame-based computer animation and basic cable, at least one Muslim group has suggested that Trey Parker and Matt Stone should be put to death. In a message posted on, Abu Talha Al-Amrikee said, “We have to warn Matt and Trey that what they are doing is stupid and they will probably wind up like Theo Van Gogh for airing this show. This is not a threat, but a warning of the reality of what will likely happen to them.” In case you’re wondering, Theo Van Gogh was the Dutch filmmaker who was stabbed to death after making a movie arguing that Islam condones violence toward women. Argument refuted: counterexample.

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