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.

Evolution caught in the act—again!

sparrow flying

A sparrow from Pompeii

Scientists have shown that the Italian sparrow is a newly evolved species of the sparrow family. DNA analysis shows that it originated as a hybrid of the house sparrow and the Spanish sparrow. However, it is now breeding true and is not interbreeding with the Spanish sparrow in areas where they occupy the same range. That is one of the more practical definitions of species.

this study, led by evolutionary biologist Glenn-Peter Saetre from the University of Oslo, is a genetic snapshot that appears to settle the debate.

Reference: Hybrid speciation in sparrows I: phenotypic intermediacy, genetic admixture and barriers to gene flow. Jo S. Hermansen, Stein A. Sæther, Tore O. Elgvin, Thomas Borge, Elin Hjelle, Glenn-Peter Sætre. Article first published online: 19 JUL 2011. DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-294X.2011.05183.x

Giant fossil seabird of England

<i>Dasornis emuinus</i>

Dasornis emuinus

Science Daily:

Described September 26 in the journal Palaeontology, the skull belongs to Dasornis emuinus, a bony-toothed bird, or pelagornithid, and was discovered in the London Clay, which lies under much of London, Essex and northern Kent in SE England. The occurrence of bony-toothed birds in these deposits has been known for a long time, but the new fossil is one the best skulls ever found, and preserves previously unknown details of the anatomy of these strange birds.

With a five metre wingspan, these huge birds were similar to albatross in their way of life. Albatross have the largest wingspan of any living bird, but that of Dasornis was over a meter and half greater. Despite these similarities, the latest research suggests that the closest living relatives of Dasornis and its fossil kin are ducks and geese.

“Imagine a bird like an ocean-going goose, almost the size of a small plane! By today’s standards these were pretty bizarre animals, but perhaps the strangest thing about them is that they had sharp, tooth-like projections along the cutting edges of the beak” explains Gerald Mayr, expert palaeornithologist at the German Senckenberg Research Institute and author of the report.

These were not true teeth but bony projections of the beak, functioning as teeth, probably to catch fish.

Skull of <i>Dasornis emuinus</i> with projected beak

Skull of Dasornis emuinus with projected beak

Birds no longer produce teeth: they have the genes to do so but teeth do not develop in the absence of bone. So Dasornis developed a functional substitute. The Dasornis’ tooth is like the panda’s thumb.

Journal reference:

  1. Mayr et al. A skull of the giant bony-toothed bird Dasornis (Aves: Pelagornithidae) from the Lower Eocene of the Isle of Sheppey. Palaeontology, 2008; 51 (5): 1107 DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4983.2008.00798.x

The Armenian genocide

Is Turkey saying it didn’t happen?

The Armenian Genocide (Armenian: Հայոց Ցեղասպանութիւն, Turkish: Ermeni Soykırımı), also known as the Armenian Holocaust, the Armenian Massacres and, by Armenians, the Great Calamity (Մեծ Եղեռն)–refers to the deliberate and systematic destruction (genocide) of the Armenian population of the Ottoman Empire during and just after World War I. It was characterised by the use of massacres and of deportations involving forced marches under conditions designed to lead to the death of the deportees, with the total number of Armenian deaths generally held to have been between one and one-and-a-half million.

Hat tip to Scooter over at Pharyngula for the Wikipedia article.

Take a look at this letter, written in 1915, from from U.S. ambassador in Turkey.

1915 letter from U.S. ambassador to Turkey

A campaign of race extermination

WARNING: Gruesome pictures below the fold.

Read the rest of this entry »

Great Fire of London, 1666

In 1666, the Great Fire roared through London on September 2, 3, and 4. It hampered the English war effort against its rival, Holland. But it also put an end to the Plague.

The wheel comes around

Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones, Graham Chapman, Eric Idle, Sue Jones-Davies (centre) , John Cleese and Michael Palin

A hat tip to Pharyngula for this story: The mayor of Aberystwyth is asking the town to lift its thirty-year ban on Monty Python’s Life of Brian. And who is the mayor? None other than Sue Jones-Davis.

In the movie, she played Judith Iscariot, Brian’s girlfriend.

Right: Sue Jones-Davies (centre) with the cast.

Romanian child will get abortion

An 11-year-old, pregnant by rape, will be allowed to have an abortion in Romania. This solution seems obvious, for children shouldn’t be forced to bear children. But the church opposes this abortion. Maternal death rates have plummeted since abortion was legalized, but this girl is “14 weeks” pregnant–over the limit for Romania. She probably didn’t realize she was pregnant until at least “10 weeks” pregnant — about when morning sickness starts. I added the quotation marks because pregnancy is dated from the first day of the last menstrual period, so officially you are two weeks pregnant when you conceive.

(CNN) — A Romanian government committee has decided to allow a pregnant 11-year-old who was raped by her teenage uncle to have an abortion, a government spokesman said Friday.

The girl is 21 weeks pregnant — too far along to have an abortion in Romania, where the limit is 14 weeks unless the pregnancy poses problems for the mother’s health, said the spokesman, who asked not to be named.

The girl’s parents had said they would take their daughter to Britain for an abortion if the committee did not allow her to have one in Romania. Abortions are legal in Britain up to 24 weeks.

It was unclear whether the parents would still take the girl to Britain following the committee’s decision, reached late Thursday.

Church groups have opposed an abortion for the girl, the government spokesman said. The Romanian Orthodox Church has urged the girl to keep the baby, and has said it will take care of the baby if the family wants to give it up for adoption, he said.

The uncle who raped the girl has since disappeared, the Romanian Health Ministry said. Media reports say the uncle is age 19.

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