Are secular people more ethical?

Spiegel Online asks, Does secularism make people more ethical?. Then it veers off into talking about numbers. Hilmar Schmundt notes: “Non-believers are often more educated, more tolerant and know more about God than the pious.” A study at Boston University finds

  • They are more commonly opposed to the death penalty, war and discrimination.
  • They also have fewer objections to foreigners, homosexuals, oral sex, or hashish.
  • They are better educated.
  • Even when their higher education levels are factored out, they are better informed in matters of faith.
  • They tend not to humanize non-human factors.

Secularists make up some 15 percent of the global population, or about 1 billion people. As a group, this puts them third in size behind Christians (2.3 billion) and Muslims (1.5 – 1.6 billion).

Pie chart showing No Religion as the third-largest group

No Religion is the third-largest group

(Figures from

Barry Kosmin is the director of the Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society and Culture at Trinity College in Connecticut, U.S.. He says

many believe that the US population is steadily becoming more religious — but this is an optical illusion. Many evangelicals have simply become more aggressive and more political.”

The article continues, “This heightened public profile may be contributing to the shrinking numbers of religious believers. Churches in the US are losing up to 1 million members every year.” Secularism is spreading from the more to the less educated, just as quitting smoking did.

In the former East Germany,

Nearly 67 percent of eastern Germans have no religious affiliation, compared to just 18 percent in the West. This trend isn’t likely to change in the foreseeable future, since children who grew up with non-religious parents are almost certain to remain secular. The mother’s beliefs have an especially significant impact on the children’s belief systems.

When the GDR ended its period of religious repression, no process of re-Christianization occurred. “After the fall of the Berlin Wall, the withdrawal of a church presence in the east actually sped up,” says Detlef Pollack, a professor in the sociology of religion at the University of Münster.

But the secular are not organized. Barry Kosmin tells of a meeting of secular groups last year in Washington. They were planning a big demonstration:

“But they couldn’t even agree on a motto,” he says. “It was like herding cats, straight out of a Monty Python sketch.” In the end, the march was called off.

Bill Maher explains swine flu

Bill Maher points out that swine flu proves evolution:

In the process, he gets in a few good one-line jokes and takes a dig at creationism.

Hat tip to Tara C. Smith at Aetiology.

Blog monkey needs your help

Dr. Marc van Roosmalen is trying to protect this new species of black, woolly monkey and other new species in the Amazon jungle.

Cutest monkey ever

Cutest monkey ever

Donations will help to fund his research and protect the habitat for these animals. If he gets $31,000, he promises to name it the Blog Monkey — Lagothrix blogii.

Hat tip to PZ Myers at Pharyngula: “Blog Monkey.”

Moose noses

When something is under your nose, you tend to think it’s ordinary and obvious. Maybe you don’t look at it as closely as you should. For example, ever since Canada has been known to science, there has been a big, water-loving deer relative called the moose. We’ve laughed at its bulging nose, but have we looked at it? A few years ago somebody did. I remember hearing about it on the radio.

Case studies in novel narial anatomy: 2. The enigmatic nose of moose (Artiodactyla: Cervidae: Alces alces)
—Andrew B. Clifford and Lawrence M. Witmer

The facial region of moose Alces alces is highly divergent relative to other cervids and other ruminants. In particular, the narial region forms an expanded muzzle or proboscis that overhangs the mouth. The nose of moose provides a case study in the evolution of narial novelty within a phylogenetically well-resolved group (Cervidae).

The function of the nasal apparatus of moose remains enigmatic, and new hypotheses are proposed based on our anatomical findings. Head specimens of moose and outgroup taxa were subjected to medical imaging (CT scanning), vascular injection, gross anatomical dissection, gross sectioning, and skeletonization.

Moose noses are characterized by highly enlarged nostrils accompanied by specialized musculature, expanded nasal cartilages, and an increase in the connective-tissue pad serving as the termination of the alar fold. The nostrils are widely separated, and the rhinarium that encircles both nostrils in outgroups is reduced to a tiny central patch in moose. The dorsal lateral nasal cartilage is modified to form a pulley mechanism associated with the levator muscle of the upper lip. The lateral accessory nasal cartilage is enlarged and serves as an attachment site for musculature controlling the aperture of the nostril, particularly the lateralis nasi, the apical dilatators, and the rectus nasi. Bony support for narial structures is reduced. Moose show greatly enlarged nasal cartilages, and the entire osseocartilaginous apparatus is relatively much larger than in outgroups. The nasal vestibule of moose is very large and houses a system of three recesses: one rostral and one caudal to the nostrils, and one associated with the enlarged fibrofatty alar fold. As a result of the expanded nasal vestibule, osseous support for the nasal conchae (i.e. turbinates) has retracted caudally along with the bony nasal aperture. The nasoturbinate and its mucosal counterparts (dorsal nasal concha and rectal fold) are reduced. The upturned maxilloturbinate, however, is associated with an enlarged ventral nasal concha and alar fold.

Moose are the only species of cervid with these particular characteristics, indicating that this anatomical configuration is indeed novel. Although functional hypotheses await testing, our anatomical findings and published behavioural observations suggest that the novel narial apparatus of moose probably has less to do with respiratory physiology than with functions pertaining specifically to the nostrils. The widely separated and laterally facing nostrils may enhance stereolfaction (i.e. extracting directional cues from gradients of odorant molecules in the environment), but other attributes of narial architecture (enlarged cartilages, specialized musculature, recesses, fibrofatty pads) suggest that this function may not have been the evolutionary driving force. Rather, these attributes suggest a mechanical function, namely, an elaborated nostril-closing system.
(Accepted September 18 2003)

Andrew B. Clifford and Lawrence M. Witmer (2004). Case studies in novel narial anatomy: 2. The enigmatic nose of moose (Artiodactyla: Cervidae: Alces alces). Journal of Zoology, 262, pp 339-360

It’s nice to know that there’s a name for telling the direction of a smell; but I think I need a picture to understand all the rest.

more funny cat pictures

Horrific car-bike accident in Mexico

One thing that bothers me about getting around by bike is the fragility of the vehicle. Drivers don’t often see us; in fact, the other day I saw a driver turn left into the path of a cyclist who had the right of way, strike him amidships and bounce him off the hood. Luckily, the car was going slowly; but the driver had just seen the cyclist and discounted him because “cyclists don’t move that fast.” The cyclist was unhurt and went on his way after a brief lecture on rules of the road and a sarcastic comment. So that’s one car-bike interaction that won’t get into the city’s statistics.  This cyclist was in the right, but about 80% of those I see make dangerous and unpredictable moves. I’m amazed that more don’t get hurt.

Still, the nightmare is to be riding along, minding your own business, when a car ploughs into you or your group. It happened a few weeks ago in the U.S. when a deputy “fell asleep at the wheel” and killed someone. He may have been drunk but we won’t know because no one took a blood sample on the scene and secured it. Any blood sample that turns up later is questionable. And it happened the other day in Mexico when a driver, apparently drunk, “fell asleep at the wheel” and slammed into a bicycle race at speed.

car slams into cyclists, Mexico

Earthquake hits Caribbean

A powerful earthquake shook the Caribbean islands at about 2 p.m. Eastern Time. The epicenter was deep, about 140 km down, which spread the shock a little and helps to prevent tsunamis. The strength has been upgraded from an estimated six-ish to 7.3. At that strength we’ll expect to see some broken glass, fallen shelves, perhaps structural damage, and injuries.

The epicenter was about 35 km south of Roseau, the capital of Dominica.

Whooping crane!

I didn’t see this in the wild but at the International Crane Federation in Baraboo, Wisconsin. I decided of all the sights I could see around Madison, the crane refuge was the rarest. So I drove the fifty miles to the outskirts of Baraboo, where the ICF has 250 acres to conduct research and find new ways to protect cranes and increase their number. The foundation has about a dozen species of cranes on display and a large area closed to the public where their cranes can breed unmolested.

Whooping cranes are one of the great success stories of our conservation. At one time, in the 1930s or 1940s, the population was down to about 22 birds. Their place is not yet secure but now there are about 250 of the big birds.

I took this photograph of a whooping crane wading in its one-acre enclosure this afternoon. It was a thrill for me to spend half an hour watching the whooping cranes.

Here’s the approximate route from Madison to Bariboo. It’s hard to get Mapquest to go to an intesection.

Here’s the aerial view of the route, showing Wisconsin as the deep green, fractally folded land I knew it must be:

Blue macaw pulls back from extinction

Lear’s Macaw is recovering in numbers slightly. It’s not home free yet; but the signs are very encouraging. Twenty years ago only about 75 were found in the wild; but recently about 750 were counted. Credit goes to Brazil for protecting its natural habitat.

The macaws nest on sandstone cliffs and feed on palm nuts. They are threatened by hunting and by poaching for the illegal trade in pets.

Here’s a paper about their possible ecological origin: Anodorhynchus macaws as followers of extinct megafauna: an hypothesis.

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