Telegraph columnist: atheists are mentally ill

April 28, 2014 • 6:08 am

The Intelligent-Design website Uncommon Descent (you know, the one that actually allows comments) is pretty useless, and I don’t pay much attention to their frequent attacks on me. But their latest, “No-one knows the mind of God, except the Committed Atheist,” led me to a much more interesting piece in last year’s Torygraph.

First, let me dispose of the Uncommon Descent piece, which is a bit of apologetics designed to answer my recent request that theists tell us why there is natural evil (the “atheism-of-the-gaps” gambit). Their response:

It is a mystery – Coyne doesn’t specify (unless he is willing to confess to a personal revelation he received from God) – why Coyne would think that, say, the God of the Bible is primarily concerned that everyone be happy all the time, that life be a carefree paradise, that there be no suffering, that we should be beat over the head with signs instead of exercising faith, that our modern sensibilities should match up with ancient cultures, that life should even be fair, that God should be primarily interested in our temporary earthly comfort rather than in teaching us lessons and our more long-term salvation.

That’s still an admission of ignorance, and doesn’t tell us why God lets little kids gets cancer, or sweeps them away in tsunamis. Even if God is not “primarily concerned that everyone be happy all the time,” isn’t he at least concerned about the lifelong torment that parents of terminally ill children experience? Doesn’t He see that he could have have prevented those deaths by simply zapping a tumor or preventing a mutation that caused it? After all, is anything really gained in God’s scheme by allowing such deaths? Do such dead children enjoy extra rewards in Heaven? For if they don’t, then the whole scheme makes no sense under any parsing.

And if there are benefits in God’s plan to allowing natural evils, let the believers tell us what they are. If they say they don’t know, well, then, they’ll have to allow us scientists to say that we don’t yet know whether there are multiverses, or why the laws of physics are as they are. The difference is that at least science has a chance of finding answers.

But I digress. The piece I found was mentioned by one of the commenters on the Uncommon Descent thread; it’s an article from last August’s Torygraph by author Sean Thomas called “Are atheists mentally ill?

Contrary to the journalistic law that title questions are always answered in the negative, Thomas says yes: atheists are indeed mentally ill—severely so. I tend to avoid calling believers mentally ill, partly because branding so much of society as suffering from illness tends to arouse ire, but mainly because I consider religious belief to be not a full-blown illness, but a situational neurosis or delusion.

But I digress again. Why does Thomas see atheists as mentally ill? Because we don’t avail ourselves of all the material benefits offered by religion. Here’s his analysis:

In other words: let’s see who is living more intelligently

And guess what: it’s the believers. A vast body of research, amassed over recent decades, shows that religious belief is physically and psychologically beneficial – to a remarkable degree.

In 2004, scholars at UCLA revealed that college students involved in religious activities are likely to have better mental health. In 2006, population researchers at the University of Texas discovered that the more often you go to church, the longer you live. In the same year researchers at Duke University in America discovered that religious people have stronger immune systems than the irreligious. They also established that churchgoers have lower blood pressure.

Meanwhile in 2009 a team of Harvard psychologists discovered that believers who checked into hospital with broken hips reported less depression, had shorter hospital stays, and could hobble further when they left hospital – as compared to their similarly crippled but heathen fellow-sufferers.

The list goes on. In the last few years scientists have revealed that believers, compared to non-believers, have better outcomes from breast cancer, coronary disease, mental illness, Aids, and rheumatoid arthritis. Believers even get better results from IVF. Likewise, believers also report greater levels of happiness, are less likely to commit suicide, and cope with stressful events much better. Believers also have more kids.

What’s more, these benefits are visible even if you adjust for the fact that believers are less likely to smoke, drink or take drugs. And let’s not forget that religious people are nicer. They certainly give more money to charity than atheists, who are, according to the very latest survey, the meanest of all.

What is missing in this litany of the benefits of belief—and I’m prepared to accept some of them—is whether such beliefs are true. And, of course, there’s no evidence that they are. In other words, Thomas argues that we atheists are mentally ill because we can’t force ourselves to believe something that would make us feel better. But have you ever tried to force yourself to believe something that is unbelievable? It’s impossible. I couldn’t accept a God even if I knew it would make me live a decade longer. The evidence for God would still be missing, so how could I suddenly change conclusions I’ve arrived at over years of thought, simply because they would make me happier and live longer? It is saner to believe delusions if they make you happy, and does it make you mentally ill if you can’t?

And for those who complain about strident atheists, have a look at Thomas’s conclusion:

So which is the smart party, here? Is it the atheists, who live short, selfish, stunted little lives – often childless – before they approach hopeless death in despair, and their worthless corpses are chucked in a trench (or, if they are wrong, they go to Hell)? Or is it the believers, who live longer, happier, healthier, more generous lives, and who have more kids, and who go to their quietus with ritual dignity, expecting to be greeted by a smiling and benevolent God?

Obviously, it’s the believers who are smarter. Anyone who thinks otherwise is mentally ill.

And I mean that literally: the evidence today implies that atheism is a form of mental illness. And this is because science is showing that the human mind is hard-wired for faith: we have, as a species, evolved to believe, which is one crucial reason why believers are happier – religious people have all their faculties intact, they are fully functioning humans.

Therefore, being an atheist – lacking the vital faculty of faith – should be seen as an affliction, and a tragic deficiency: something akin to blindness. Which makes Richard Dawkins the intellectual equivalent of an amputee, furiously waving his stumps in the air, boasting that he has no hands.

Well, Thomas provides gives no data on how often atheist couples are childless. Again, I’m prepared to believe that they have, on average, fewer children than do believers, but that’s because religions like Catholicism and Islam treat women like breeder cattle, urging them to pump out one child after another. That keeps women in a kind of servitude, and, as Hitchens always emphasized, bars them from the economic empowerment that is often an engine for societal improvement.

But the big flaw again is Thomas that sees refusal to believe something on faith, even if that would make your life more comfortable, as a form of mental illness. Since when has asking for evidence for an important proposition been a sign of mental affliction?

The reference to the brain being “hard-wired for faith” is a canard. If you look it up, you’ll see it links to an article showing that specific parts of the brain light up when one is thinking of God. In fact, those same parts of the brain light up when one is pondering moral conundrums. How on Earth does that show that the brain is “hard wired for faith”?

In fact, the article says this, quoting the authors (Grafman et al.):

“Our results are unique in demonstrating that specific components of religious belief are mediated by well-known brain networks and they support contemporary psychological theories that ground religious belief within evolutionary-adaptive cognitive functions.”

“There is nothing unique about religious belief in these brain structures. Religion doesn’t have a ‘God spot’ as such, instead it’s embedded in a whole range of other belief systems in the brain that we use every day,” Professor Grafman said.

Scientists are divided on whether religious belief has a biological basis.

Note that they don’t say that faith is hard-wired, but that religious belief “is mediated by well-known brain networks” (so what?) and that their findings “ground religious belief within evolutionary-adaptive cognitive functions.” That last statement is a bit weaselly, because all kinds of things that didn’t evolve, like our ability to play chess or invent light bulbs, are also grounded in “evolutionary-adaptive cognitive functions.” In fact, everything that humans do could be said to be “grounded in those functions.” After all, the brain evolved, and much of what we do is actuated by the brain.

This, combined with the fact that those same brain areas light up when one contemplates moral problems (the article don’t say whether atheist brains also light up in the same circumstances), suggest only that different parts of the brain are used for different things. And, of course, we already knew that. It says absolutely nothing about whether the brain is hard-wired for faith, which I take to mean that natural selection has installed in us a belief in supernatural deities.  (One could test that, of course, by bringing up kids in an environment completely free from religious influence or knowledge, and see if they spontaneously start worshipping God. My bet is that they wouldn’t, but the experiment is impossible in today’s world.) Too, if religion is “hard-wired”, it’s remarkably easy to soften the wires, for many countries, like those in Scandinavia and Europe (and 41% of Brits) consist largely of nonbelievers. That’s not hard-wiring, but beliefs that are malleable.

If anything is hard-wired in our brains, it’s our tendency to believe what our elders tell us when we’re small children. That would clearly be adaptive, for we immediately benefit from others’ experience. Religion has piggy-backed on this evolved credulity to allow our elders to indoctrinate children with all kinds of superstitious nonsense. In that sense religion is a spandrel.

But what’s important here is that Thomas completely fails to support his case that atheists are mentally ill—unless he considers rationality a mental illness—and he grossly and willfully distorts scientific research to claim that because we’re all “hard-wired for God,” those who are atheists have their wires crossed.

The guy is not only a terrible arguer, but a mean piece of work.

165 thoughts on “Telegraph columnist: atheists are mentally ill

  1. The guy is not only a terrible arguer, but a mean piece of work.

    So it’s hardly a surprise he’s found employment at the Torygraph, is it?

    1. It is a contemptable rag, isn’t it. Unfortunately, it’s also relatively popular, so even if it’s a piece of pepar I’d hesitate to wipe my posterior with, one has to be aware of what their latest excretion is.

    1. Well, we ARE biologicall hard-wired to get intoxicated from ethanol. So according to this guy’s logic, that must make it good and you’d have to be mentally ill not to drink.

    2. “The fact that a believer is happier than a skeptic is no more to the point than the fact that a drunken man is happier than a sober one. The happiness of credulity is a cheap and dangerous quality of happiness, and by no means a necessity of life.”

      ― George Bernard Shaw, Androcles and the Lion

      /@

      1. Obscenely poignant.

        This is a life worth living and that comes with physical and mental challenges, which to a Christian, must seem like unhappiness. In any case, most Christians I know are unhappy and the majority of those that are unhappy fret over money more than anything else. Now that is getting your priorities straight!

  2. Has anyone explored the possibility that believers get better medical care than atheists?

    Usually when one enters the medical system, at least in this country, one is asked for a religious preference. Thus, it would be known to all caregivers.

    Just asking. L

    1. Maybe that happens when you go into a hospital, but I’ve never been asked my religious preference when getting a checkup, or getting my prescriptions filled, and so on. I really don’t think there’s a systemic bias in our medical system that way. Maybe some individual doctors, yes, but frankly health care provider companies are far more mercenary than idealistic. They wouldn’t want to screw over atheists more than Christians – they probably want to deny expensive health claims from both populations with equal fervor.

      1. I do think there’s a religious bias but it seems to be linked to the more widespread problem of women receiving inferior and more patronizing care. I’ve been repeatedly told that “God wants you to have babies”, but my husband’s childless status is never questioned. Fortunately our current doctor doesn’t do this and is quite happy to treat atheist patients.

    2. If believers are healthier it might have something to do with the fact that belief per se has great social support, which would explain the psychological benefits it confers.

    3. There’s also the possibility that believers have internalized the message that complaining about one’s health fails to give credit to God for doing all the work He did in order to make it better than it might have been. “I’m fine because I’ve got Jesus” might cancel out “today I feel like crap” — especially if the survey suggests they’re looking for a connection between health and religion.

      I’ve met at least one atheist who thinks the health care providers deliberately withheld pain meds in order to make him cry out to God for relief. This possibility worries me a bit every time I have to put my ‘religion’ on a sheet meant for medical purposes.

      1. Mikey Weinstein documented a case where a Jewish soldier was denied pain meds by a Xtian doctor, who told him to pray to his god and see where that got him. L

  3. I’m not sure which is more annoying, this idiot’s inability to interpret the results of observational studies (they can establish correlation, not causation), or the underlying political motive. Isolate, denigrate, eliminate is a time-honored method for totalitarians. It must be resisted, wherever it’s applied.

  4. UD:

    why Coyne would think that, say, the God of the Bible is primarily concerned that everyone be happy all the time

    Um, because theists keep claiming He loves us? When you love someone, you generally want them to be happy all the time.

    Now if theists want to stop claiming that God loves us, the theodicy problem will go away. Simple as that.

    1. The really wicked aspect of this apologetic is the way it denigrates and denies the intrinsic importance of human life. It makes the only existence we can be sure of nothing more than a means to the REAL end — a presumably Perfect end which more than justifies anything done in order to get here. Pain, suffering, and death turn into plot devices which only serve to move the Salvation Story along.

      Despite the insistence that atheists are “nihilists,” it’s really the theists who take that position. The ends justifies the means, and there is no amount of cruelty, unhappiness, and misery which means anything or matters.

      1. Please brush that paint carefully:-) It’s true that some, maybe many, Christians and Muslims think about life as you describe them ( You say, “It makes the only existence we can be sure of nothing more than a means to the REAL end — a presumably Perfect end which more than justifies anything done in order to get here. Pain, suffering, and death turn into plot devices which only serve to move the Salvation Story along”).

        But this isn’t the view of many other theists. At least that was not my perspective (I was a non-creedal Christian for 58 years) or the perspective of theologians and theistic philosophers I’ve read, who would agree with your view.

        Calvinists within Christianity probably fit your description, but other Christians would vehemently oppose this “apologetic” as much as yourself.

        Many theists don’t think the “end justifies the means.”

        1. How do these more other Christians explain why so much pain and suffering exists in a world created by an all-knowing, all-powerful, all-loving God?

          I suspect “the end justifies the means” is a broader brush than you think. From what I can tell, it applies to all the theodicies for this version of God, once the vehement opposition is over.

          1. Well, there are many views…too many to explain here in a comment.

            I spent years confused:-) how God could be “all-knowing, all-powerful, all-loving” (especially the latter)yet permit/allow the horrendous actions of Christians now and in history, and the horrific disasters including the Black Death, the painful dying of small children from cancer, etc.

            Since I completely rejected the dogma of many Christians that God ordains evil and the view that “the end justifies the means,”
            I read every theodicy I could get my hands on for years and years.

            None of them ever seemed valid. And some of them were obscenely awful.

            I was left with Eli Wiesel’s dramatic story in his memoir Night (from his own experience in Auschwitz)–that God suffers in every human death.

            And I would add in every animal death.

            But I know that isn’t verifiable and highly speculative. However, concluding that the whole cosmos, all that is, is meaningless is also speculative.

            In the end I think theists have to give up the idea of the Divine being all the omni’s, especially “all-powerful.”

            At least, after 58 years, I did.

            I’ve not read Alfred Lord Whitehead’s opus, (except via similar philosophers such as Charles Harthsorne). But I think process philosophy probably gives the best answer, as I recall.

            1. As I recall, process theology gives up the omnis. Kushner’s When Bad Things Happen to Good People invokes a weak, crying God helpless to intervene.

              But God presumably still set the system up.

              The problem with the Problem of Evil is that theists are left on the horns of a dilemma: either all the pain and suffering is worthwhile in the long run and/or necessary for the greater good — or it isn’t and at least some of it is pointless.

              If it is “all for the best” … then this is “the ends justifies the means.”

              If it isn’t, then God set up a system which is inherently unfair. What then is the point of God’s plan and purpose and meaning of the cosmos — if you are one of the casualties? Or even if it’s not you, but someone else? Does your ends justify their means?

              We who reject the Cosmic Plot aren’t stuck with having to come up with moral rationalizations for why horrible things happen: physical causes are sufficient. All the moral rationalizations are involved in mitigating them, not justifying them. Atheism doesn’t conclude that “the whole cosmos, all that is, is meaningless.” The whole cosmos includes us — and things matter to us. We matter to each other.

              Even God has to matter to us or it can’t and won’t be seen as “God.” That ought to give you a strong hint on which way the meaning actually travels.

              1. In process philosophy and theology, God isn’t considered to be an unmoved mover who ordains and controls, etc. (But all of this is speculation from my standpoint. I’m not a professional philosopher, and they disagree.

                Yes, I’ve also read Kushner’s book. I thought his heart was in a good place, but that the book was superficial. Of course, he wasn’t writing for academics but to comfort those who suffer and grieve.

                Their’s where my interest is–in lessening suffering and creating good and beauty. My central concern is ethical. Though I do speculate about the ultimate nature of the cosmos,(my wife thinks I’ve never met a “why” I didn’t want to ask;-).

                As I said in the previous post, I think Elie Wiesel’s answer is, while unsatisfactory, the best available.

                You say, “atheism doesn’t include that ‘the whole cosmos, all that is, is meaningless.’ The whole cosmos includes us–and things matter to us. We matter to each other.”

                I am heartened to hear you say this. Mostly, when I’ve read and dialogged with atheists they’ve emphasized that there is NO meaning, that there isn’t even any alternative choice for us humans, that “we” as conscious, aware individuals don’t even exist, but are only illusions, that ethics are also subjective and illusionary, etc.

                In my opinion, the best evidence that the nature of the cosmos isn’t utterly meaningless and unrational, etc. is that human primates came along, even if by chance.

                True, we came via natural selection which isn’t a purposeful agent in the sense a human being is, but
                that we are self-aware, purposeful, sometimes rational, even capable of science, and ethical/ought centered, against the pain of others, not just our own and kin,
                seems to me, not proof of God, but is evidence against the atheistic view that the cosmos is totally devoid of meaning.

                Of course, as I’ve said for years, on Thursday, I’m an existentialist, agreeing with Camus, that probably the universe is absurd.

              2. I’m not a professional philosopher, and they disagree.

                That observation right there is all you need to know that philosophy as an intellectual discipline is worthless.

                Science has a method of filtering likely truth from likely not-truth. Philosophy does not. Scientists from all disciplines from all over the globe converge on the same set of answers; philosophers (and theologians) diverge wildly with no consensus.

                If somebody cannot provide sound logic backed by hard evidence to justify a position — or, at least, offer a proposal for how to come by such evidence — there’s little point in wasting your time trying to figure out what that person is on about.

                True, we came via natural selection which isn’t a purposeful agent in the sense a human being is, but that we are self-aware, purposeful, sometimes rational, even capable of science, and ethical/ought centered, against the pain of others, not just our own and kin, seems to me, not proof of God, but is evidence against the atheistic view that the cosmos is totally devoid of meaning.

                Your logic is not sound and does not follow from the evidence you yourself give. You correctly observed that Evolution explains human origins…and yet you use that to conclude that it does not really explain human origins.

                You insist that you reject Aristotelian metaphysics and the unmoved mover, but what you’re claiming here is that there is some metaphysical meaning that transfers meaning through Evolution to humanity. That is exactly equivalent to demanding that there must be something that moves inertia so that inertia may, in turn, move the planets. And, just as the latter example would demonstrate a profound misunderstanding of basic Newtonian mechanics, your use of Evolution to demonstrate celestial meaning similarly demonstrates a profound misunderstanding of basic Darwinian biology.

                Fortunately for you, you’ve come to the right place to get those misunderstandings straightened out, should you wish to actually understand….

                Cheers,

                b&

              3. Given that I don’t think that the atheistic view is that “the cosmos is totally devoid of meaning” (since that would technically leave us and what matters to us out of the cosmos) I don’t consider your evidence persuasive. That we find ourselves and the things we like to be amazing is perfectly consistent with the belief that rest of the universe does not. I’m okay with that.

                Keep in mind that anything which makes sense ethically — which improves and enlightens and promotes love, peace, and harmony — is going to be an idea or an action which isn’t going to depend on whether someone explains it with supernaturalism or not. Theists have theology — but atheists own philosophy and ethics — the parts which don’t entail the supernatural, that is. The parts which deal with what we know and how we live within the limitations of being human.

                Them is big parts.

              4. If internal disagreement means that philosophy is ‘worthless’ then what do we make of the disagreement between Ben and me regarding the worth of philosophy?

              5. If internal disagreement means that philosophy is ‘worthless’ then what do we make of the disagreement between Ben and me regarding the worth of philosophy?

                Well, I’ve got the empirical evidence that any three philosophers in a room will have seventeen opinions on the validity of any one philosophical principal (Neoplatonism? Qualia? Objectivism?), whilst an auditorium full of scientists will be in unanimous agreement on the fundamentals of their field….

                But, seriously: by what method do you separate “good” philosophy from “worthless” philosophy?

                I’ll bet you not only a suitable beverage but the meal to accompany it that the means by which you do so, if any, is either a matter of aesthetic appeal (like art) or falls under Jerry’s and my definitions of “science broadly construed.”

                b&

              6. Ben wrote:

                I’ll bet you not only a suitable beverage but the meal to accompany it that the means by which you do so, if any, is either a matter of aesthetic appeal (like art) or falls under Jerry’s and my definitions of “science broadly construed.”

                Problem is that I’m construing “philosophy” so broadly that it INCLUDES “science broadly construed.” It’s the larger category, not an alternative.

                A semantic debate: we will be eating our words.

              7. Ah…one of those.

                I see calling science a subset of philosophy because philosophy was there first and philosophy is all about thinking and trying to make sense of things as useful as calling astronomy a subset of astrology because astrology was there first and astrology is all about trying to understand the stars.

                In my book, if you’re apportioning beliefs in proportions indicated by a rational analysis of objective observation, you’re doing science. Some philosophers value that approach, but overwhelming numbers do not. Indeed, many explicitly reject empiricism as a valid quest because it’s somehow circular question-begging or something like that. As such, science is clearly incompatible with philosophy in the exact same way science and religion are incompatible. All disciplines are attempting to settle the status of often-overlapping truth claims, and each has its own means of doing so. And only science has any record of success….

                Cheers,

                b&

        2. Well, historically, this view was used to justify setting people on fire in hopes that they would turn from their wrong beliefs. And while believers have progressed beyond this setting people on fire for their own good attitude, nihilism about our present existence is still common place among huge swaths of believers. Most of my childhood friends and family are unconcerned about any but the most grossly short term environmental issues because, and this is a quote, “it’s all gonna burn in the end.” This is also why most of my family and friends support the death penalty. If we make a mistake, well, God will sort it out in the end.

          While I realize that many religious people are concerned about how things go in this present life, about taking care of people and the world in the here and now, and there have been occasions when religious belief has spurred individuals to work for improvements to the world (e.g. some of the abolitionists), I think that the core Christian message is still that the world is just a phase. This is a great comfort to people in distress, of course, but I think that no matter how one regards the phrase “end justifies the means” this outlook is subtlety corrosive to moral thinking. How can one regard the world even remotely correctly from a moral point of view if there is someone to “make it all right” after the fact?

          1. Good point. I agree that the “end justifies the means” is corrosive to moral thinking. A quick overview of Christian history shows that.

            Too bad you know the wrong theists;-)

            Many Friends, Anabaptists, liberals, are concerned about the issues you mention. In fact they were some of the leaders in the abolition movement, peace movements, civil rights and the environment.

            But the loudest braying theists get the most notice;-)

            1. The more humanistic theism becomes, the more reasonable it becomes. Eventually it gives the sorts of answers and approaches which could come from an atheist of good will, as God and Spirit are identified less and less with the supernatural and more and more with nature and how we live. The Sacred revelation of Divinity slowly gets covered up with the wisdom of the world and improves and progresses.

              I don’t think you’re rescuing theism here: you’re burying it.

              If the “right” kind of theists admit to themselves and others that it doesn’t really matter if someone believes in God or not and it doesn’t even really matter if God exists or not, this is a big problem with the concept.

              1. ?
                You said, “If the “right” kind of theists admit to themselves and others that it doesn’t really matter if someone believes in God or not and it doesn’t even really matter if God exists or not, this is a big problem with the concept.”

                But I do think it matters whether humans live for God (the Good,ethical truth, meaning– whatever we want to call the view that ethics in an objective sense is real–as in honesty is better than dishonesty, reason and logic are better than unreason, etc. and that Existence in total has purpose and meaning).

                Also, I don’t think I am trying to “rescue theism,” at least not in a formal sense. I was just trying to point out that when it comes to ethics some theists (as well as some atheists) when they forget their abstractions, do make significant (and in my view) positive contributions to existence.

                What I am interested in is reason, compassion, beauty, etc.

                I’ve had too many conversations in over 50 (as well as read too many tomes) in which both theists and atheists argue for
                all manner of suffering–whether its bombing civilians, torturing, executing,etc. (There’s always a justification. For theists it’s their concept of God, for atheists, it’s their own culture/society’s well-being.)

                I’ve pointed that some theists don’t subscribe to such actions.

                And I know some atheists don’t.

                Thank the Cosmos for that.

                Amen;-)

            2. rivermenno wrote:

              But I do think it matters whether humans live for God (the Good,ethical truth, meaning– whatever we want to call the view that ethics in an objective sense is real–as in honesty is better than dishonesty, reason and logic are better than unreason, etc. and that Existence in total has purpose and meaning).

              No, this is just what I am saying. If “the Good, ethical truth, meaning” etc. is the same thing as “God” and “God” is the same thing as “the Good, ethical truth, and meaning” then if God doesn’t actually exist it doesn’t matter.

              What matter is that OUR existence has purpose and meaning: yours, mine, his, hers, theirs. If “Existence as a whole” doesn’t have meaning imbedded into it — so what? If there is no Essential Nature of Goodness existing as a Spiritual Force or whatever — so what? That was an explanation. It proved to be wrong. But what it explained and what it inspired are still there. In fact, they were what made people think of God in the first place.

              Look at it this way: if one of your ‘good’ theists were asked what they would change about their lives if they came to the conclusion that there was no God, what would they most likely answer?

              1.)I would give up on life and crawl into a hole.
              2.) I would do whatever I wanted, grab as much as I can, and hurt as many people as I could.
              3.) I don’t think I’d change much of anything. Everything that matters to me now would still matter to me then.

              That third one is humanism. Those first two are just sad. They’ve got it backwards.

              1. Well, we at least agree on something:-). I’m definitely a 3rder. #2 in my view is horrendous.

                The difference would be–if there were no objective meaning to existence–that then I would know, that in reality compassion, reason, honesty, etc. don’t count but are illusionary.

                And, I’ve met plenty of theists and atheists for whom compassion and honesty don’t count.

                That’s been my sad experience:-(

                It seems your experience has been different–that it’s only theists who justify all kinds of harm in the name of their religions.

              2. The difference would be–if there were no objective meaning to existence–that then I would know, that in reality compassion, reason, honesty, etc. don’t count but are illusionary.

                Once again, your conclusion doesn’t at all follow from your premises.

                Look at a flower. It’s just a bunch of up and down quarks and electrons and gluons in a particular arrangement, nothing more. But does that mean that it’s not pretty, that bees don’t take nourishment from it, that it’s not acting to create more flowers? Of course not.

                Just because different layers of abstraction reveal different perspectives on something and that there’s often little or no relationship between those layers of abstraction doesn’t mean that there’s no significance to the different layers of abstraction. You could use quantum mechanics to describe the orbital properties of the planets in terms of gazillions of particles interacting, but that’s quite literally missing the forest for the trees.

                So you have a theory to explain certain very important aspects of human psychology and sociology. And that theory is wildly inaccurate and has no bearing on reality whatsoever. The answer isn’t to dismiss the observations but to come up with a better theory. Just because we couldn’t explain Mercury’s orbit in the nineteenth century didn’t mean that we concluded that gravity didn’t exist and the planets really were wandering gods. We still knew that gravity was real, but that we needed a better explanation for it — an explanation which Einstein was able to come up with.

                You just need to do a similar thing. Ditch the whole supernatural nonsense schtick, but don’t think that you have to ditch compassion, reason, honesty, and the rest along with your incoherent explanation for the phenomena.

                Cheers,

                b&

          2. rivermenno wrote:

            The difference would be–if there were no objective meaning to existence–that then I would know, that in reality compassion, reason, honesty, etc. don’t count but are illusionary.

            Don’t count? On what level?

            “If something is an illusion that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist. It just means that it’s not what it appears to be on the surface.”

            The lack of a Platonic Form or Spiritual Essence as an “explanation” isn’t important if what motivated you in the first place was how we live.

          3. We have to be careful by what precisely we mean by “the end justifies the means.” As much as I enjoy dissecting some of the more vile aspects of Catholicism, there is a large amount of logical coherence and internal consistency in portions of their doctrines (not to be confused with supporting evidence, though there are even examples there where there have been tangible benefits to following certain doctrines.)

            Traditional Christian theology, which certainly for the last 17 centuries, if not more has been shaped by the Catholic Church teaches that the end does not justify the means from the point of moral responsibility. That is, the action taken has an intrinsic moral value and any good outcome from an immoral action isn’t justified.

            That said, if we expand out to a wider scope, any action, no matter how moral it is deemed out side of the Church’s self appointed moral authority is not justified. This is where you run into such proclamations as abortion and birth control being wrong in an absolute sense. No amount of reasoning matters. And, this is where the ends justifying the means comes in at more of a meta level. No amount of prevented suffering on Earth is worth a grave violation of the moral code. The only logical viewpoint is then doing whatever it takes to earn eternal salvation. No suffering on at any scope or scale that is finite can be negate eternal bliss. The corollary is that no amount of happiness and we’ll being that is finite can be worth more than avoiding eternal suffering. This extends to any claims where rewards and punishments are infinite in nature and can and has been used to justify almost everything imaginable.

            -Matthew 10:35

    2. Christians also love to claim that their gods are the ultimate source of all morality. Yet it is horrifically immoral to be aware of some heinous crime and not even alert the police, or to see smoke coming from the rafters and not shout, “FIRE!”

      That Jesus has never, ever, ever called 9-1-1 demonstrates that he’s the very epitome of evil incarnate. (Except for that whole nonexistence thing, of course.)

      Cheers,

      b&

      1. Except of course if existence has no purpose, then evil is a meaningless word.

        So I’m guessing you are being ironic/satirical when you say “epitome of evil incarnate.” Very funny phrase.

        There’s pain, non-pain, and matter and energy.

        What else could there be if there is no purpose?

        1. You’re making a Division fallacy.

          “If the universe doesn’t have a purpose, then WE can’t have a purpose.” Wrong. That doesn’t follow.

          Think about it. “Good” and “evil” are evaluations and we are evaluators. There are levels of complexity and we deal with the level we’re dealing with. Atheists anchor purpose and meaning in humanity and possibly some of the other living species. That’s as far down as it NEEDS to go.

          Nothing gets added with theism but a handy metaphor which too quickly gets out of hand.

          1. I answered your post with a fairly lengthy response, but it just disappeared:-(

            Well, you probably didn’t want to read it anyway;-)

            Briefly: not only don’t I trust many theists because they justify harm to others (not of their kin and society and god),
            I’ve also experienced this with some atheists.

            I lived for a short time in the Middle East.I lived (on an Israeli kibbutz)and was the only theist. This was a secular farm where everyone was atheistic (and I understood why, they escaped out of Nazi Germany in the 1930’s).

            But, like many atheists I’ve dialogged with here in the United States, they emphatically believed in subjective ethics. Their anchoring their “purpose and meaning in humanity” did much harm to others.

            If in doubt, ask why recent immigrants to Israel, American citizens, have the right to take away Palestinians’ land (which in one case the Palestinian family owned for over a hundred years, including documentation!) just because they are Jewish.

            Or why the government can repeatedly confiscate land in the name of the army?

            Etc.

            I’m a student of history too.

            If there are no human rights (in the Enlightenment sense of objective), then we get “grab with the gun.”

            Or “grab with my god.”

            In my opinion, the only future hope for humanity is to base their ethical decisions on what appears to be objective ethics.

            As I said, I’ve had too many conversations with both theists and atheists who justify the slaughter of thousands of civilians, torture, theft, lying, etc. all in the name of what is best for us:-(

            I don’t trust either religious ethics or atheistic ethics.

            1. In my opinion, the only future hope for humanity is to base their ethical decisions on what appears to be objective ethics.

              …and one is supposed to discern these Platonically ideal ethics…how, exactly?

              If you look to the Bible, Jesus, in red-letter text, commands his disciples to kill all non-Christians in a parable about how he’s going to do the same come Armageddon. And he brags about how he came to bring not peace but a sword, and to rip families asunder.

              Such themes run rampant throughout the main discourses of those claiming absolute objective moralities. You see the same in the Pentateuch, the Q’ran, and almost any other “holy” text.

              Contrast that with those who reject the notion of absolute objective moral codes, those who insist that we must constantly re-evaluate our conclusions and refine them against new observations. It is from those people whence came the Enlightenment and all further refinements inspired by it.

              Anybody starts telling me how there’s some “objective morality,” and I start wondering how long it’s going to be before they start keepin’ teh wimmins barefoot and preggers in teh kitchin while they go out purifying the country of all those dark-skinned people with funny names.

              b&

              1. What still often gets overlooked in these objective morality debates is what objective morality is. Sure, it can be asserted that what God deems moral is moral, but to say that this is objective makes no sense unless we shift the goal posts and claim God isn’t a subject.

                We can even go so far as to grant the assertion that this type of morality is objective. It says nothing about other types of morality being objective. To meet the criteria of objectivity, the morality simply can’t change on the whims of an individual. It is trivially easy to come up with such a system. One example of many: an action which shortens the expected life span of another individual is immoral. We may not have full information to ascertain whether the action in fact was immoral, but it doesn’t negate the fact that with sufficient information, the morality could be ascertained and have nothing to do with an individual’s opinion. To claim that divinely mandated morality doesn’t have similar conundrums is absurd; look no further than debates within religious sects, nevermind interfaith disagreements.

              2. …and, even before we get that far, there’s even the question why objective morality is the type to have.

                Much better to forget all the philosophical bullshit and cut to the chase and figure out what morality actually is (an optimal strategy for an individual member of a society) so we can move on to making the best one we can.

                Cheers,

                b&

              3. I’ll add to that. Even if objectivity morality is agreed upon as the type to have, it has no bearing on it existing.

                The argument of objective morality from God has so many disconnects at every step that it is no wonder that when we get down to the implementation of moral codes, disagreement runs rampant.

              4. I think one basis for what may be the start toward objective ethics is the Enlightenment-based concept of “human rights” for everyone, EVERYONE.

                You said, “those who reject the notion of absolute objective moral codes, those who insist that we must constantly re-evaluate our conclusions and refine them against new observations. It is from those people whence came the Enlightenment and all further refinements inspired by it.”

                I would mostly disagree with you on this, based on my own knowledge of the Enlightenment.

                It’s true some Enlightenment figures thought there was no objective truth, but they were in the minority.

                Most of the leaders of the Enlightenment supported the beginnings of human rights, etc. and rejected–to one degree or another–subjectivity in ethics and the oppression of hierarchical religious tyranny.

                Also, I think that another starting concept is that unarmed people shouldn’t be bombed, tortured, etc.
                Notice how quickly such horrors are justified when it’s your group or nation that does them. Only those of the other groups are condemned.

                Thirdly, that honesty, fidelity, compassion and so forth be a working view of objective ethics.

                If later some evidence is shown that contrary views are more in tune with actual reality, then we can deal with that then.

                What I worry about are all the theists and some atheists who judge ethics according to how good it is for them and their kin.

                As I already mentioned, I’ve lived in the Middle East (where I got to observe theists and atheists both justify all manner of harm for their particular group. I lived with atheists but got to observe how Muslims, Christians, and religious Jews dealt with ethics–not a nice picture:-(

                And also have dealt with theists and atheists in the U.S. who justify all manner of harm because it is in their best interest.

                Of course, as I also said, maybe there are no objective ethics–in which case we’re each on our own,
                but I’ll go with “human rights,” etc.

              5. Rivermenno,

                If you believe in God,, could you please provide for us the evidence a. for your God and b. If you adhere to a specific faith, why do you think that, as opposed to others, is the right one. You must answer this question, according to the Roolz, before you can post again.

            2. There are many strong nontheistic defenses of “objective ethics” — and there is nothing more subjective than morals grounded in an unknowable, untestable supernatural realm based on and knowable through faith. What matters in the long run I think isn’t whether people insist their ethical precepts are ‘objective’ or ‘subjective’ — but whether they are reasonable.

              In The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined Steven Pinker points out that some of the most dangerous ethical reasoning comes out of ideologies which involve some dogmatic belief in perfection or Utopia. The world is divided into black and white, the good side and the evil side. There will be progress … and wickedness must be purged.

              This is certainly easier for religion to set up but it can be secular too. The worst ideologies — religious or not — don’t really suffer from a lack of concern for morals or justice. If anything, there is too MUCH concern for both, and an uncompromising unwillingness to tolerate human shades of gray.

              I don’t know what “atheistic ethics” entails. Atheists ought to just look for what stands up either way; so should theists. That’s “secular ethics” and it’s humanism.

              1. You say there are many strong nontheistic defenses of “objective ethics.”

                ? Please send me a few links if you don’t mind.
                I would immensely appreciate that.

                I am very interested in thinkers who try and get beyond the old concepts of theism versus atheism.

                Nearly all the atheists I have encountered in my life–from this last years to all the way back to the University of Nebraska and Long Beach State University in the late 1960’s tried to convince me that there were no objective ethics. At the same time, most Christians were trying to convince me to kill communists for Christ. Talk about confusing:-)

                I do know of one article on Infidels in which the author, a strong atheist, sought to ground ethics objectively in reality. As I recall, he argued that ethics are objectively real, “located” in reality like math is.

                I don’t remember his name. (How can I think about difficult topics like objective ethics when I am so forgetful? Last week I couldn’t even remember the name of my favorite author;-)? So much fun getting old.

                The view of objective ethics also appears to have been the view of Martin Gardner (who kept ethics separate from belief in God) and Einstein (based upon the biography I read of him), though he allegedly wasn’t an atheist. he thought ethics were objective, but didn’t believe in a personal god.

              2. I’m not sure if you’re thinking of Michael Martin or Richard Carrier at Sec Web, but both have defended a secular version of objective morality. One of the most popular recent attempts was of course Sam Harris’ The Moral Landscape.

                The big issue of course turns out to be on what “objective” and “not objective” mean when we apply it to questions of what one “ought” to do. Even if you ground an “objective” right and wrong into the very fabric of the universe, you will still need to make a case for WHY what is “right” is really right by appealing to values and goals you and I and everyone already have. Same for why we ought to do it.

                When you think about it, so-called “objective” systems of ethics grounded in anything other than humanism still eventually have to circle back to humanism to justify themselves. “Intersubjective” is probably as far back as we can go before ethics either becomes incoherent or starts resting on the power of God instead of its Goodness.

        2. Except of course if existence has no purpose, then evil is a meaningless word.

          That doesn’t even make sense in the context of the fantasy worlds of the various religions.

          “Evil” is best understood as doing unto others as they do not wish to be done unto. We are, of course, full of conflicting and changing desires, so it can be a complex concept; I might not want to have somebody slice open my chest, crack my ribs, and cut up my heart…but, if I needed a coronary artery bypass, my desire to not undergo such horrors would be subsumed and I’d want the surgeon to go ahead regardless — but, again, I’d need to be the one to make the informed consent.

          So I’m guessing you are being ironic/satirical when you say “epitome of evil incarnate.” Very funny phrase.

          I’m not joking.

          According to Christians, Jesus is, at the very least, knowledgeable enough to judge all humanity for their moral failings, and powerful enough to intervene in human affairs. That means that Jesus must be fully aware every time a priest rapes a child in his name, and that he also has the power to alert the police as to what’s going on. Jesus has no excuse for failing to call 9-1-1, any more than you yourself would if you walked in on a priest raping a child. Less; the priest might be able to intimidate you, but what has Jesus to fear from a priest?

          If you would condemn the priest’s secretary as an horrific accomplice for knowing that the priest always rapes some child at 3:30 every Thursday afternoon yet never calls the police to put a stop to it, then how could you possibly not condemn Jesus even more so for every crime he observes that he never reports?

          What else could there be if there is no purpose?

          Only we ourselves are even theoretically capable of giving our own lives purpose. Can your parents dictate your own purpose in life to you? No? Yet they’re far more directly responsible for your existence than any god of any religion could possibly be.

          And even if we grant the idea that the gods are real and have specific desires of us and have communicated those wishes to us, it still does us no good. How are we to know that, as the Man who was Served learned too late, that it’s not a cookbook? After all, Jesus is often described as the Good Shepherd and We Like Sheep in his flock. Sure, good shepherds protect the flock from the wolves…but shepherds kill and eat far more sheep (and lambs!) than wolves ever have.

          Are you all grown up yet? If so, have you figured out what you want to be when you’ve grown up?

          Yes?

          There’s your purpose.

          And, if it doesn’t suit you, feel free to change it — but don’t expect anybody else to be able to tell you what to do with your life.

          No? Well, sorry…but that’s your problem. The rest of us have figured it out, and are busy living our own lives as we see fit. Mostly, as best we can….

          Cheers,

          b&

          1. Most of your response seems aimed at views I, too, oppose. So what else can be said?

            Then you, say “‘Evil’ is best understood as doing unto others as they do not wish to be done unto.”

            But if this maxim isn’t grounded in reality, of what use is it?

            I would still oppose bombing innocent civilians or lying even if there is no objective ethical standard. I would still support ‘human rights’ in Benin, etc. (my wife and I used to be belong to A.I. and I write letters), but I would know my views were illusionary.

            I am tempted to write a longer response, but since I just lost a few pages (thanks to the computer demon;-), and I’ve explained my views to Sastra and others already, I ask you to look at my responses there.

            If you those don’t suffice, and don’t answer the counter points you’ve made, please point me to what I need to still respond to.

            Now, I’ve got to stop posting and get my work done;-)

            1. Then you, say “‘Evil’ is best understood as doing unto others as they do not wish to be done unto.”

              But if this maxim isn’t grounded in reality, of what use is it?

              What on Earth should make you think it’s not grounded in reality? Or is it your position that only the supernaturally transcendent is “real” reality?

              Simple evolution is enough to paint the rough picture, and game theory can fill in most of the rest.

              Imagine a society in which everybody went around wantonly murdering and raping and pillaging everybody else with reckless abandon. Such a society would practically instantly self-immolate most spectacularly; to suggest that it would not survive is an understatement.

              Now, imagine a society only marginally less brutal, with people being not quite so eager to wreak havoc. It, too, would not last long, but it would outlast the first one.

              Just one last step gets us where we need to go: imagine the second society, but small clusters of the people in the society form mutual non-aggression pacts. Those small clusters no longer have to expend resources defending themselves against the others in the pact and can instead devote those resources to better fending off others not part of the pact. Members of such pacts might actually have a decent chance at survival.

              Once you’ve made it that far, it’s pretty obvious how the rest of morality and civilization can evolve. You don’t want to live in a world where bombs might rain down from the sky on your home at any moment, so it’s in your own best interests to help others ensure that they don’t live in that type of a world, either. And, yes, there will be those who attempt to take advantage of the system; it’s in your own best interest to protect against such cheating, ideally in such a way that there’s more advantage to be gained by constructive cooperation than by destructive parasitism, but by simple brute defensive force if nothing else is available.

              That’s really what it comes down to. As Aaron Copland enshrined Lincoln’s words: “As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master. This expresses my idea of democracy. Whatever differs from this, to the extent of the difference, is no democracy.”

              That’s really pretty much all there is to it.

              Cheers,

              b&

              1. ?

                Based, upon what you’ve said, I thought you were agreeing with some others who claim that ethics are subjective and relative, not objective as in the sense, say, math.

                You say, “Simple evolution is enough to paint the rough picture…”

                ?
                According to all the evolutionists I have read, humans can’t (or shouldn’t) get their ethics from evolution.

                Besides, evolution (as I understand it) is purposeless and meaningless, the exact opposite of everything ethics stands for.

                Then you say,”Imagine a society in which everybody went around wantonly murdering and raping and pillaging everybody else with reckless abandon. Such a society would practically instantly self-immolate most spectacularly; to suggest that it would not survive is an understatement.”

                No, of course, not; even criminal societies and gangs have strict codes of conduct.

                But I am discussing worldwide ethics. Just read a little of the current events today! and through any historical tome, and we can see that societies regularly do go around slaughtering, even raping,and definitely pillaging. It’s just that they do this to those of other societies, other nations, other ethnic groups.

                And, usually, all this rampage works out very well for many winning societies–the Mongols, the Huns, the Persians, the Greeks, the Romans, the Turks, the British, the U.S. etc.

                Consider the behavior of European nations toward Africa in the period from about the 1500’s to the 19th. ETC.

                Then you say, “You don’t want to live in a world where bombs might rain down from the sky on your home at any moment, so it’s in your own best interests to help others ensure that they don’t live in that type of a world, either.”

                HUH?! Maybe you’ve not lived in the Middle East, nor lived through the Vietnam War, etc.

                As for Lincoln, he’s no hero of mine. His horrific actions belied his nice words. Are you aware he kept slaves enslaved in the Union, while he demanded that slaves be freed in the Confederacy?

                I am an old American literature teacher, Civil War reader, been over some of those carnage sites.

            2. ‘True, we came via natural selection which isn’t a purposeful agent in the sense a human being is, but
              that we are self-aware, purposeful, sometimes rational, even capable of science, and ethical/ought centered, against the pain of others, not just our own and kin,
              seems to me, not proof of God, but is evidence against the atheistic view that the cosmos is totally devoid of meaning.’

              ~13.8 BYA an atom expansion event resulted in the known Universe and perhaps extra-Universe stuff not presently confirmed to exist. The known Universe did not contain Homo sapiens until very recently, some one to two hundred thousand years ago. The known Universe was therefore totally devoid of meaning for almost every instant it existed.

              When H sapiens showed up, finally, all that changed. Our Universe became significant, necessary, rife with meaning. Important. Like human life.

              Must. Locate. Agency. Everywhere.

              Consciousness is a property of the human brain. It emerges with brain development. Humans lump this property in with other faculties/functions we name Mind processes. We separate automatic non-thinking tasks Mind performs independent of conscious capacity like regulation of body organs into functions performed by Brain.

              While Brain is alive Mind may function resulting in consciousness. Consciousness may be diminished if Brain succumbs to gradations of incapacitation that impacts Mind and diminishes or eliminates consciousness. Consciousness did not arrive from outside brain, and consciousness does not depart brain. Consciousness is if Mind is, and it is not absent Mind.

              The Universe is not affected, not altered in any way, by one single death or multiple deaths, the disappearance of a single conscious human actor or multiple actors. If all humans instantly simultaneously perish along with their collective consciousness at any given moment, there remains no existing consciousness that will long lament the loss. Pets, among the remaining sentient Earth animal populations, will notice the absence longest, but their consciousness (like all the other lower orders of animals aware of humans) will in short order cease to be aware H sapiens ever existed.

              The Universe has no consciousness, unless someone is concealing the evidence of it for some reason. It is incapable of either noticing or caring if living creatures exist or not. It will either continue or not, in its present form or another one(s), as a result of physical interaction of the various forces, indifferent to any value judgement produced in the Mind of any existing conscious agent. Say, a human being, for example.

              People disappoint, atheist and theist alike, and “ethics” as ascribed to individual behavior quite possibly accounts for most of the reasons why.

              Are there two sets of ethics, one theist and one atheist, humans have to make a sort of Manichaen choice between? I don’t think so.

              If there are two such, though, and especially if they are sets of clearly distinguishable absolutes, it should be possible to swiftly produce lists of all the items for each set for comparison purposes and thus settle the issue. If lists are not readily available, I conclude this is clearly an instance of evidence of absence.

              Justifications offered for policy proposals may be either overtly or covertly based on specific conduct codes. Reasons are always manufactured post hoc to justify actions. Sometimes all or part of such justification and reasoning is directly ascribed to supernatural “belief systems.” This is the 21st Century US military experience. I do not know where atheism fits here.

              Only blindly devout believers (in any form of “ism”) and unprincipled opportunists allow themselves to be persuaded that ends justify any means. Both are always with us, says history.

              Both blindly devout believers and charlatan pretenders fill leadership positions, of course, and it is not always easy to tell the difference. They, too, are constantly present.

              If truth is what is sought, what is wanted here, the definition of truth is direct correspondence with reality. Whether perceived as personally desirable or not.

              Locating truth is difficult to accomplish. Reality is often not easy to ascertain, and all of us fool ourselves about what is real all the time, both knowingly and unknowingly. But reality-truth is discernible, and provides meaning for existence for me, unlike any theistic goals I’ve ever encountered.

            3. But if this maxim isn’t grounded in reality, of what use is it?

              It allows large numbers of humans to live in relative peace and harmony. What other use does it need?

              Consider our police force and judicial system. Do you need to know whether there is a God or not before you can evaluate their impact on society? To decide whether you’d rather live under them than without them? No, you don’t! And neither do we need to know whether there is a God or not to evaluate the impact of social rules like “do unto others…” on society.

          2. Reading your example of Christ or the secretary not calling the police, I recalled a much older story of non-involvement about an assaulted traveller, a priest, a Levite and a Samaritan. Whom should Jesus emulate?

            1. I could readily believe the moral of that story was intended to be: that Samaritans are unclean and all of their actions are anathema, however virtuous they’d be if performed by a real mensch. The bible’s morality really is that fucked up, most of the time.

  5. Protecting one’s already blunted psyche via disorganized attachment, cognitive dissonance, denial of reality, compartmentalization, reliance on fantasy, and an inability to cope with impermanence does not sound like an adaptive recipe with any intrinsic value. The caulking gun of religion is merely a short-term exercise in blinkered escapism and quixotic mirth.

  6. The very large literature showing that the religious are healthier does exist. However, nearly every single study compares those who are religious and practice with those who are religious but don’t practice. The results would seem almost completely driven by either healthy religious people being more active or that being central to any group is good for you.

    There are literally only a handful of studies that actually compare health outcomes between religious people and non-religious people. And to my knowledge there isn’t a difference.

    1. My understanding is that when religious people are matched up with non-religious people who have a similar cause, interest, or community — the discrepancy goes away.

      1. Yes, counting their donations to church as charity, the most of which money goes to buildings and church staff, is a bit like me counting the money I spend on concert tickets or going to theme parks as charity.

        From my personal point of view, most of the religious people I know from my childhood do contribute a couple of thousand dollars to their church every year. But, and this is important, in their mind they are done. THAT in their mind is the charity that will solve all of the world’s problems (they are in denial about how much of that money helps anyone but preachers and themselves). They then spend their political capital entirely on denying any kind of government help to anyone. The more liberal religious people and shading into the unbelievers are generally MUCH more willing to pay higher taxes to improve the general welfare. And it doesn’t take much change in taxes to dwarf $2k/year in donations for many people. So who is stingy here?

        1. The more liberal religious people and shading into the unbelievers are generally MUCH more willing to pay higher taxes to improve the general welfare. And it doesn’t take much change in taxes to dwarf $2k/year in donations for many people. So who is stingy here?

          This can’t be brought up often enough. So many people never even think of the big picture.

  7. Sitting in a church listening to a preacher tell me how Jesus loves me and is watching over all of us has an adverse effect on my blood pressure, as anyone who knows me can attest.

    1. The trouble is if Jesus loves you then Mohammed doesn’t & neither does whichever other god that you would care to mention!

      My prescription – avoid religious services!

  8. Obviously, it’s the believers who are smarter. Anyone who thinks otherwise is mentally ill.

    What a piece of work indeed! He says that we, “quite literally”, have a mental illness, and ridicules us for it. What sort of a person makes fun of people with mental illness? Also, what makes a person think that the mentally ill “choose” to be that way?

    Which makes Richard Dawkins the intellectual equivalent of an amputee, furiously waving his stumps in the air, boasting that he has no hands.

    This is just sick. Making fun of disabled people is typical for this sort of smug, conservative gnnraaagghhh*@#$. (language filter kicks in)

    I have relatives and friends and have known people with mental illness (myself included) and also with physical disabilities, which means I know there is no boasting about “having no hands” – we are satisfied with knowing we cope just fine without them.

  9. And I mean that literally: the evidence today implies that atheism is a form of mental illness. And this is because science is showing that the human mind is hard-wired for faith: we have, as a species, evolved to believe, which is one crucial reason why believers are happier – religious people have all their faculties intact, they are fully functioning humans.

    Even if true (I am, like Jerry, skeptical), what he’s doing here is committing the naturalistic fallacy. This is just a classic ‘deriving an ought from an is.” Also, IANA psychiatrist but his logic would probably make a a lot of things ‘mental illnesses.’ We are probably hardwired for kin-based altruism, rather than broad-based altruism. So does that make broad-based altruism insane? And if we are hard-wired to discriminate against people who look/act differently than us, does that mean nondiscrimination is mental illness? As many people have noted, we are pattern-seeking animals; we are ‘hard wired’ to find patterns, even in randomness. Does that mean that teaching ourselves to accept that noise is sometimes just noise makes us insane? And so on.

    1. We are also hard-wired to find validation for what we already believe. Obviously.

      And if we want to use the same reasoning this Thomas character uses, we can argue that human beings seem to be hard-wired for mental illness. It’s natural to our species. So now where is he?

      1. It is akin to what is going on in education:

        Everyone has a learning disability now. AD this AD that. Dyslexic this Dyslexic that.

        Everyone has a little bit of socio-pathetic tendencies, depression, paranoia, you name it. Most of us go our whole lives either never thinking about these behaviors or controlling them wisely, or simply entertaining ourselves with other things and avoid an unpleasant circumstance that might result from loosening the gap between ‘normal’ and ‘disturbed’.

        Truth is, most art, literature, poetry, and music has only come by allowing some people to enter the space that others call insane for awhile a let out something really profound.

        1. People talk about mental functioning in a way that seems absurd to me, as though there were two categories: normal and crazy. That makes as much sense as having two categories for vision: blind and 20/20. I have never understood people’s aversion to diagnosing large numbers of people with some kind of sub-optimal mental functioning (OCD, ADHD, depression, etc.) either. Why do we think nothing of the fact that 30-40% of young adults benefit from glasses and almost everyone over 50 does, but are aghast if we learn that 30-40% of young adults are said to need some kind of mental help? Do people really think that our very complex brains are all functioning in a very narrow range of optimality while our much simpler eyes are prone to being out of whack?

      2. If (please treat as the biggest imaginable if) we are hard wired to believe in religion, there is a good chance that such an “adaptation” would have evolved in our ancestors. What would be the effect on religion if it were demonstrated that, for example, lemurs had hard wiring for religion too? Or cats? Do cats believe in the Ceiling Cat?

  10. Strong points, especially “…how could I suddenly change conclusions I’ve arrived at over years of thought, simply because they would make me happier and live longer?”

    When theists like Thomas write such weak articles, no wonder many more humans are questioning religion.

  11. I would point out that atheists aren’t the ones regularly talking to people who aren’t there.

  12. That the most progressive and scientifically countries are the least religious (USA excepted) – does that make them mentally ill countries? Are we seriously supposed to think so?

    I am reminded of King George II, answering the Duke of Newcastle who said General Wolfe was a madman;
    “Mad, is he? Then I hope he will bite some of my other generals!”

  13. Thomas:

    > if you accept “average group differences in IQ”, you get into all sorts of sinister debates

    Let’s do!

    To discover that group differences in IQ are attributable to systematic societal neglect.

    And I fully agree that when children are raised religiously, society has failed them.

  14. “Since when has asking for evidence before acceptance been a sign of mental affliction?”

    That’s a big misconstrual of his argument.

    He’s saying that this aspect of rationality leads towards behaviors that are classified as mental illness. He’s right, at least in the US, where much of our social life centers on religious activities.

    Other studies show, however, that when you correct for the social connections, and you correct for the degree of confidence in one’s beliefs, these benefits go away.

    A confident atheist with strong social ties to his community has all the benefits that accrue to a committed theist who goes to church twice a week.

    This is why some atheists are trying to start these secular churches.

    1. I think you hit the nail on the head here. There are so many social behaviors bound up with religiosity, that it becomes easy to confuse some benefit due to those social behaviors with a benefit caused by religiosity.

      But even so, it seems to be a really silly stretch to say non-optimal health decisions renders one insane. We don’t consider smokers to be insane, and that’s a much more blatant example of people choosing a less healthy lifestyle.

      1. I agree that “mentally ill” is an uncharitable interpretation of the data. In refuting such a biased view, I do think that it’s a good tactic to acknowledge the true things that your opponent has said, because it boosts your credibility when you get to the correction.

  15. If the original author is right about the data on mental health, life satisfaction, and sociality — I have heard conflicting things about these data, but I grant that he may well be right — then I think his challenge is best put as follows. It is not that nonbelievers are deluded or that they should, epistemically speaking believe. It is that they are less happy. In other words, there is a general conflict between nonbelief (even if there are some exceptions)and happiness or full out flourishing.

    I don’t think that’s an insane idea, but I’d need to see more data. Even without the data it’s not all that surprising: believers think that everything will work out for good, that death can be conquered, that there is a teleology to their lives. How could that not come with some psychological benefits? Of course, for one who sees no evidence for these points, there is not much to be done epistemically — but there may be a loss to suffer.

    I think the best response to this reasoning is, ya maybe that is a loss but (1) I can’t do anything about it and (2)even if I could, I value truth more than well-being. I think (1) is plausible and I am not so sure about (2).

  16. nice to see that a theist admits that he has no idea what his god wants.

    And indeed why should this god care if we should be happy all of the time… you know like that heaven place that theists often claim exists.

    Uncommon Descent does a lovely job of showing how vile Christianity can be. Their version of god has to harm people to teach others “lessons” so they can be “saved”. Which means they think that some people deserve to be harmed as long as a TrueChristian benefits.

    Finally, I do love to see TrueChristians lie repeatedly like the fellow in the newspaper article has.

    “Is it the atheists, who live short, selfish, stunted little lives – often childless – before they approach hopeless death in despair, and their worthless corpses are chucked in a trench (or, if they are wrong, they go to Hell)?”

    Shucks, lies about atheists and our lives, an attack on anyone who doesn’t have a child, *and* Pascal’s wager, that he also fails at since his actions show that he doesn’t believe in his religion either since he has no problem ignoring its rules.

    and worthless corpse? Nah, those organs I don’t need anymore will hopefully help someone else. I wonder, does our TrueChristian have his organ donor ID?

    1. The Uncommon Descent guy is correct that the God of the Bible shows no concern for the wellbeing of humans. I hope he is emphasizing to his fellow believers what a cruel and viscous brute the Abrahamic god really is. And of course Jesus is no better. As he said in Matthew 10: 34-40, Jesus did not come to bring peace, but a sword and the goal of setting son against father, etc. etc. Jesus’ goal is, in fact, the total destruction of the nuclear family.

      I can see why faith in Jesus brings such comfort.

              1. To me, Star Trek will always oscillate back and forth between being silly and groan-worthy, and being awesome. But without Tasha Yar they got to move Worf into even greater prominence. To say it in Klingon: “silver lining ghaj Hoch chen”.

    2. He condemns atheists for being “often childless.” And yet, the world’s largest organization of people who are childless by choice is . . .the Catholic Church! All those childless priests, nuns, monks, bishops, etc.–does he consider them insane? Even Jesus was childless–unless you believe Dan Brown.

      1. Well, theoretically childless priests in the Catholic Church are massively outnumbered by the followers who are encouraged by those priests to reproduce quite a lot. It may work out to more reproduction overall. Why this is supposed to be a good thing eludes me.

        The theoretically childless nuns (I imagine the theory is on stronger ground for the religious with uteruses…) may not be encouraging reproduction in others quite so strongly, but if they are staffing the orphanages to which the people resulting from excess reproduction are going, I suppose that may be indirect support.

  17. And if we were to discover that humans are hard-wired for violence, I’m not sure it would be appropriate to call nonviolence a mental illness.

  18. Jerry’s observation that you can’t just decide to believe something because of outside pressure is spot on. So Sean Thomas’ argument falls apart at its root.

    I know from personal experience how this works, having suffered a crisis of faith when I was about 20 years old. I had been raised a Jehovah’s Witness, and by age 20 had learned enough about the world to understand that something was wrong with many of their teachings. I nearly quit, but because the JWs bring up their children with few job skills, I would literally have been out on the streets of New York had my parents kicked me out as they threatened. So I went back to square one as if I were a new JW convert, re-learning basic doctrines. The one that really stuck in my craw was the JW version of the “ransom sacrifice” doctrine, which is completely nonsensical. Because I felt I had no choice but to accept it, or at least, pretend to accept it, I convinced myself that there must be something wrong with me for my hesitancy.

    As years passed and I learned more about science and such, I gradually found that I could no longer fool myself, and eventually quit. Much later a Star Trek Next Generation episode really struck home. Captain Picard had been captured by the Cardassians and was being tortured. At the end, the torturer wanted Picard to hold up four fingers and say that he saw five. The scene ended with Picard not having to tell the Cardassian how many he saw. Later, after Picard had been freed, he told Number 1 that under the torture he actually began seeing five fingers.

    Religion can bring the same kind of pressure when not accepting its nonsense can result in one’s losing his entire world and having to start life over from scratch. And if one does accept nonsense under pressure, doesn’t the saying that “a man convinced against his will remains unconvinced” apply?

    1. Thank you for your account. All the reasoned debate and citations of this or that study on ‘who is better off’ can step aside in deference to true stories such as this. I see here a confirmation of the moral bankruptcy of religion.

    2. That’s a key message of many forms of religion: If you don’t believe it it is because you are defective. Belief is framed as an expression of who you are, your essence, rather than as a conclusion you draw from facts, observations, reasoning, etc. This is a powerful trick because it cons everyone into keeping their mouth shut with their doubts and raises the costs for deciding not to believe because you have been convinced that not believing changes the essence of who you are.

    3. Re the Star Trek episode reference to torture, Thomas’ sister in faith Sara Palin — the two seem to me to traverse close to identical intellectual terrain, even given the columnist’s superior vocabulary — issued a claim statement over the past weekend I’ll post a link to here:
      http://politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com/2014/04/28/palin-waterboarding-is-how-we-baptize-terrorists/

      Yes, polical pandering bluster. Also, I wager, revelatory of the sort of sincere, all in, unwavering belief commitment that guarantees confirmation bias as well as each & every other self-delusional human cognition capacity.

      Thomas’ opinion column informs me that his and the former Vice Presidential candidate’s emotional investment in their “belief system” are quite quite likely as similar as are those beliefs.

  19. If anything is hardwired in our brains it would seem to be the tendency to over-detect patterns in nature and to attribute agency to phenomena which have none.

  20. Articles like Thomas’ help to undermine the very point he wants to make — that people ought to be religious. By focusing so much on the benefits of belief he fuels the atheists’ claim that God does not exist but people want to believe it does anyway because it’s all about THEM. He thus turns religion into personal therapy, granting it far less respect than we critics do.

    Ask any believer if they would renounce THEIR beliefs and start to follow some other religion if it could be shown to them that the statistics demonstrated more earthly benefits to the adherents. Would they turn to another god if they could make more friends, would they switch denominations for comfier seats or better artwork? Most of them would scorn to do this, and say so indignantly.

    So what the hell sort of argument is Thomas making here? It won’t appeal to either the nonreligious OR the religious — if they just think this through a bit.

    A little bit of thought will also discover that this “Pick the belief that makes you happier here on earth” position is the exact opposite of the “forget happiness on earth, go for the Truth” apologetic at Uncommon Descent. I’m wondering if the person who mentioned it in their comments pointed this out.

    1. I suspect that the idea is not to encourage that careful a consideration of the argument, and that Thomas is hoping that it can and will be read on the level of “atheism bad, church good, because reasons!!!111!!”

  21. “Is it the atheists, who live short, selfish, stunted little lives – often childless…”

    Seriously? I’ll grant that there’s something to this, but selfish? Stunted? Childless? I’m guessing Thomas doesn’t know any atheists.

  22. So if a certain part of the brain lights up when someone says “God,” I’m sure the exact same spot lights up when someone says, “Allah” to Muslim, of “Vishnu” to a Hindu. This is not proof of any particular deity, just proof of social conditioning.

    1. The whole “OMG, brain lights up!” line of reasoning is an attempt at bamboozlement. It sounds impressive to a layman, but having some part of our brain light up when we think about some subject (any subject) is exactly what we would expect. What this guy is doing is pointing out a neurologically mundane fact as if it were unusual or especially meaningful.

      It would be far more interesting if certain thoughts did not make the brain light up – THAT would be the sort of evidence one might expect for dualism. But that’s not the case; thoughts are associated with brain activity, exactly as a nondualist would expect.

      1. Oh yeah, I’m with you. It’s just that Sean Thomas makes a big deal out of “God,” ignoring thousands of other deities that probably have the same effect on the brain. Deities he surely doesn’t believe in.

      2. Right. It’s particularly annoying when people use “OMG, brain lights up!” for meditation, mystical experiences, ESP, astral projection, or some other presumably amazing ability. Were they really expecting the skeptics to expect to see no neurological changes?

        Perhaps that’s how they interpret nonbelief: we deny anything and everything connected to what we deny.

  23. Reminds me of the old joke about the Soviet argument for putting dissidents in lunatic asylums: “Well, you have to be mad to oppose a security apparatus with the power to… put you in a lunatic asylum.”

  24. If evolution were in the business of designing brains (bear with me here…) which type of brain would it choose: One that was primarily concerned with having correct beliefs about the world, or one that was concerned with making allies?

    It seems to me that having allies confers more of a reproductive advantage. So if having correct beliefs conflicts with making allies, evolution would probably have built in pretty strong mechanisms for making allies to the detriment of truth finding.

    Indeed, everything I’ve read about religious belief suggests that it’s the social aspect of religion that makes people happy and healthy, not god-belief in and of itself. If there were secular equivalents of the social aspect of religious participation, I’m sure that the supposed benefit of believing in god would go away. Since religions are things that humans have invented, I don’t see why we can’t make a secular alternative (actually there are secular alternatives, like group dancing, sports matches, nationalism, etc.).

    1. Evolution might have an each-way bet, of course. It’s cleverer than Leslie Orgel.

      Much I owe to the Lands that grew–
      More to the Lives that fed–
      But most to Allah Who gave me two
      Separate sides to my head. – Kipling

  25. I’m intrigued by the implication that atheists leave “worthless corpses” while religious people presumably leave something better. How is a dead religious person’s body worth more than an atheist’s, and do different religions confer different values? Do vultures and carrion beetles prefer one over the other? Does one make better skull cups, thighbone trumpets, and bone ornaments? Does one ignite more readily, or make prettier cremation slag? Can medical students tell whether the donor was religious, and do they learn more from a (formerly) religious body?
    Science wants to know!

    1. His bile makes it sound to me as though he’s trying to convince himself. I suspect that what he’s really raging against are the doubts in his own mind.

      Even religious people are aware of the implausibilities of their faith. It isn’t always that they CAN’T see the flaws in their belief system; it’s that they can see them but are trying very hard to make the doubts go away. [I know; I used to be one.] When it was revealed a few years ago that Mother Theresa had moments of anguished non-belief, Dinesh D’Souza wrote a column saying that it was common for believers to have these “dark nights of the soul,” and ridiculed atheists for not understanding this. [“Contrary to atheist propaganda, believers don’t claim to ‘know’ God. That’s why they’re called ‘believers.'”] Is that what Thomas is going through here?

      1. Mother Theresa had *decades* of anguished non-belief, or at least anguished non-experience of God.

      2. How bizarre when theists try to taunt atheists with the claim that they too wrestle with doubt and have many “dark nights of the soul.”

        Don’t they realize that these doubts are coming from their conscience?

        Or, at the very least, can’t they figure out that this is what atheists will think — and grant no credit then to this “struggle?”

  26. That’s interesting. I wasn’t aware of all those studies that show that religion has beneficial effects (ignoring, of course, the suicide bombers, etc). I wonder if they are accurate? I suppose it could be analogous to the placebo effect for drugs — even though the beliefs are unfounded they make people feel better (or at least those that can buy into all the BS without mental dissonance).

    1. I would hazard a guess that people with stronger social networks tend, on average, to lead more active, healthier, more community-oriented (i.e. charitable) lives. So there may be a real effect, but it has nothing to do with the content of a religious belief, it has to do with the fact that if your friends are getting out of bed at 7am on Sundays to go help out at the soup kitchen, you are much more likely to do that with them rather than sit on the couch, drink beer, and watch sports all day. Religious organizations tend to give you ‘friends’ that do stuff like that.

      Incidentally, there is a similar effect with marriage; married people tend to live longer, and my guess is for the same reason. When you live with someone, you will tend to indulge in your own bad habits less.

      1. Yes I think you may be right. Most of the religious people I know don’t run around spouting the catechism, but they do hobnob socially with other believers a lot.

  27. many so-called ‘aethists’ are mentally ill, because they are often members of Hindu based Tibetan Buddhist groups, who don’t believe they are involed with a theocratic, fundamentalist ninth century group, but actually beleive and tell the world that they are nontheist, and secular:

    Like Sam Harris , who is a member of the cult of Tibetan Lamaism and its secular and ‘scientific front’ the Mind and Life Institute, when he is really out shilling for the Dalai Lama and Tibetan Buddhism which he often drops in proselytising memes for the Hindu tantric cult of Lamaism and its vajrayana teachings.

    So some ‘aetheists’ ARE mentally ill , they are calling themselves ‘secular’ while shilling for Tibetan Lamaism, therefore engaging in a form of diassociation,denial and idealization of their masters , the Lamas on thrones, OR they know what they are deceptively doing , and are sociopaths, as many of these gurus are.

    http://www.extibetanbuddhist.com

  28. “that God should be primarily interested in our temporary earthly comfort rather than in teaching us lessons and our more long-term salvation.”

    OK, but in that case, why must animals suffer? Why let so MANY animals over the whole course of evolution suffer, often excruticatingly?

    Funny how the religious, in their blinkered focus on the prospect of eternal life for THEM, neglect to “think of others”…

  29. To a certain extent, I could understand if non-believers, specifically recent de-converts had somewhat shorter life expectancy. De-converting is often filled with stress, loss of community and family, depression, and even outright anger–factors that could affect life expectancy. Although it doesn’t discuss life expectancy, these articles discuss those stresses that leaving religion places on a person: Religious Trauma Syndrome: http://journeyfree.org/rts/

  30. “The majority is always sane, Louis.” – Nessus, who seems sane to us but is considered insane by his people as a result. (Niven, Ringworld)

  31. In other words, Thomas argues that we atheists are mentally ill because we can’t force ourselves to believe something that would make us feel better. But have you ever tried to force yourself to believe something that is unbelievable? It’s impossible. I couldn’t accept a God even if I knew it would make me live a decade longer. The evidence for God would still be missing…

    Exactly. Spot on, Jerry!

    This is what believers and apologists (and even Ground Of Being-ists) ALWAYS use as their final point of regress. They’ll agree that their God is invisible, unknowable, unfathomable and completely beyond the beyond…yet still retain the notion that clearly there is a God. What’s more, they are aghast and claim offense when we apply the exact same reasoning to point out that perhaps there is no God.

    If using the same lack of evidence to reach a rational conclusion of the apparent non-existence of deities is a symptom of mental illness…well then, it’s time to get ill.

    1. Worse, they have the unmitigated gall to simultaneously claim that their gods are unknowable and yet to make absurd claims on their behalf.

      It’s a naked power grab in the garb of a confidence scam, no more and no less.

      b&

  32. “the atheists, who live short, selfish, stunted little lives – often childless – before they approach hopeless death in despair,”

    Define short. Define stunted. Why does this idjit think all atheists approach death in despair? And does he really think that only the religious aren’t selfish? What a pathetic little piece.

  33. The notion that religious people are consistently nicer is contradicted by much of my life-experience. Who is the control group in this study??

    At best, this data (of which I am skeptical) would show atheists are !*less healthy*! like a relatively normal person missing some vital nutrients in their diet, but nothing here warrants the phrase “mentally ill”, a loaded term if ever I saw one.

  34. This piece by Thomas is one of the nastiest and most duplicitous things I’ve read in awhile. I unfortunately don’t have the time to check all those “benefits of belief” claims, but I find them all to be highly suspicious, or at least highly misleading. I’ve checked a few of the ones he preferred to focus on though, despite the fact that he conveniently omitted any sources for these claims.

    “In 2004, scholars at UCLA revealed that college students involved in religious activities are likely to have better mental health.” I assume he got this item from this press-release: http://goo.gl/NlYzho. Not only do we not do science via press-release, this work has never seemed to be appear in any form in a peer-reviewed forum. There’s a paper by the same study authors in the Journal of College Student Development (http://goo.gl/LMOEpD), but this seems to just go at great lengths to describe the various “measures” they have developed for assessing spirituality in undergrads; i.e. it proposes an authoritative set of latent variables to describe spirituality in undergrads. I read a bit of it and skimmed the rest, and nothing in there talks about how spirituality affects other personal and health factors. I can only assume then that the data is perhaps hidden somewhere in their book, found here: http://goo.gl/sHvmH6. Again, we don’t do science by publishing books – we need some peer-review.

    Most importantly though, in all these pieces and a few other related ones, there is no discussion of the uncertainty involved in the comparison of effect sizes. From the initial press-release: “non-church going students are more than twice as likely to report feeling depressed or poorer emotional health than students who attend religious services frequently.” So what? What’s the uncertainty in the measurement? I can’t find any indication anywhere.

    There is also the important point to be made that a student’s subjective assessment of their mental health is not at all equivalent to an actual professional diagnosis of their mental health. So even if we concede the quantitative claims – which I am not at all willing to do without some actual numbers – no, Thomas, those students are not likely to “have better mental health,” merely to report feeling better.

    I cannot find anything on Thomas’ claimed 2006 study out of the University of Texas. There’s something similar out of Pittsburgh in the same year, but it sounds to be simply a case of confirmatory data-mining.

    Regarding the 2006 Duke research, again it’s hard to know exactly what Thomas means. I assume though that it has something to do with Koenig’s work which, like Astin, Astin and Lindholm, does not appear in peer-reviewed form, only as a nice big tome, http://goo.gl/GxPdDw. For a very interesting look at what Koenig considers good science, have a look at this interview by BeliefNet: http://goo.gl/D5QLj8. That doesn’t exactly instil me with a lot of confidence.

    Finally, I looked a bit into the claim about the 2009 study of Harvard psychologists finding the more religious you are, the better you fared after suffering a broken hip. It’s interesting that all I can find is *another* article by Thomas, using his pseudonym Tom Knox, where he tries to play the same stunt, but actually switches out the research team! See http://goo.gl/y8ugb. In the Telegraph piece:

    “Meanwhile in 2009 a team of Harvard psychologists discovered that believers who checked into hospital with broken hips reported less depression, had shorter hospital stays, and could hobble further when they left hospital – as compared to their similarly crippled but heathen fellow-sufferers.”

    For comparison, here’s the Daily Mail piece from 2011:

    “In 1990, the American Journal of Psychiatry discovered believers with broken hips were less depressed, had shorter hospital stays and could even walk further when they were discharged compared to their similarly broken-hipped and hospitalised, but comparatively heathen peers.”

    I’ve already spent too much time on this so I’m not going to try to unravel the entire litany of “studies” Thomas supposedly is so well-acquainted with, but it seems like he got most of them from this report by the Heritage Foundation, http://goo.gl/v2ZN2, a well-known conservative think tank that has a habit of producing execrable material with fancy sounding numbers. It’s also interesting to note that the UCLA and Duke work I talked about above were both funded by the John Templeton Foundation.

  35. “the more often you go to church, the longer you live.”

    Wait, isn’t this a bad thing if one’s objective is getting to heaven?

    1. I wonder what it does to people’s minds when on the one hand you ought to be glad when you can leave this vale of tears behind and be with your god for ever and ever (read some of Bach’s cantata texts…), and on the other you are not to take any measures to shorten this life (no euthanasia, because god wants you to suffer for as long as your body will hold out).

      I’m not sure I understand the reasoning behind it all. But then again, my life will probably be shorter than that of a believer, so what do I know.

      1. The overview over at Wikipedia is less than conclusive: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religion_and_health

        Note, as others here have, that the studies predominantly compare churchgoers to non-churchgoers, not theism vs. atheism. One pretty obvious factor that needs to be accounted for is that people people who don’t participate in social activities of any kind (be it church or otherwise) often don’t do so for health reasons, including mental issues. We have plenty of data regarding the impact of having strong social networks improving health and life expectancy. If that’s not what is happening here, it’s up to people like Thomas to show which unevidenced beliefs cause increased life expectancy.

  36. The difference is reality. People are happy in spite of belief rather than because of it. There is an element of fantasy to his writing. It would seem like a wonderful thing to believe and a terrible thing to not believe. If the world he envisions were the one we all live in but it is not. the examined life is a struggle even if one is a Christian and has a passionate commitment to the religion- the happiness one feels knowing one is right and someone else is wrong.. that is a poor dinner. Rather than imagine he may have a point.. feel pity for his lack of insight into himself.

  37. I guess that old saying, “Ignorance is bliss” was true, after all- fanatics, of any stripe, are ALWAYS happy because they have something of which (they think) they can be entirely sure in this often confusing life (I mentioned in another comment how fear as a reaction to uncertainty may be a “positive” genetically-transmitted trait): if you really think about it, given the possibility of bad things happening to you, life IS a constant state of uncertainty where the state of being serene or joyous about one’s existence is a relatively rare, and thus eagerly sought-after(by any means)one.

    The most absurd thing about the “problem” of evil and religion’s explanations for it is that an all-knowing deity already knows all of these things are going to happen(even when free will is inserted into the equation), rendering the entire exercise a pointless one.

    It seems that Thomas is living the “stunted” life, here (and a cruel, mean one, too)- one of those Xtians whose main reason for wanting to go to Heaven seems to be so he can look down on those suffering in Hell and yell, “I TOLD you so!”

    1. Of course, the implicit assumption there is that if atheists are wrong, they’re going to Hell. How does Thomas suppose that even if theism is granted that Hell is real or that the most important criteria for judgment is belief? Suppose God wants to see which of His creations are worthy of building the next iteration of the Universe and He wants people who thoroughly test their designs and demand evidence of claims and the people who believe utter bullshit are the ones who are punished?

      1. Belief has to be the most important thing. It’s the cornerstone of all chain letters… er, I mean religions.

        In any case, perhaps the true god is Sithrak, the god who hates us unconditionally (http://oglaf.com/sithrak/, page SFW but the site is NSFW).

          1. Yes. I love the cult of Sithrak. It’s not far from the Calvinist’s god and sort of captures the terror I was brought up with even with a non-Calvinist view god (narrow is the way that leads to salvation I was told every Sunday, often followed by some guided visualization of Hell).

  38. In circumstances like this, I always point people to the song “This Heaven” from David Gilmour’s album “on an island”

    It sums up things perfectly to me, by extolling the virtues of living in the moment and finding amazement in the good things that surround us.

    Exactly inverse to being mentally ill, I would say.

  39. Suppose there were a belief that there is a transcendent chip-butty stalking you, and encouraging you to be a better person; and that this belief made you even more generous, kind, healthy, et cetera than current religions.

    By his argument you would literally be mental to not convert right away.

  40. I didn’t dig through all the links, but I’d suspect these longevity claims don’t apply when factoring oppressive religious countries such as the African Christian nations, the Islamic Middle East states, and other theocracies such as the Phillipines. These places are horribly behind when it comes to modern medicine and it shows in everything from infant mortality to famine to disease. Where is the “hard wired” faith coming into play to rid these places of curable diseases, sectarian warfare, back alley abortions, etc.? Of course, finding nonbelievers as a control group in these places is out of the question. But, the situation in those places hardly lends credence to the fact that faith alone improves anything at all. In fact, I’d challenge anyone to show anything in those places that wouldn’t improve with some democratic, secular changes. Naturally, I’d ask that the implicit assumption that the more kids the better is waived from this list.

  41. Brilliantly put. This line of attack has cropped up countless times, oddly enough from the mouths of agnostics, who feel I, and people like me, are somehow cruel and (somehow) intellectually deficient for our non belief. These days I tend to roll my eyes and walk away, but I’ll occasionally press for answers. There never are any – it’s just playground ‘Na-Na-Na-Na-Na’ nonsense, as far as I can tell. But what would I know? I’m just a mentally ill, happily married father of two who, along with my heathen wife, might live a tiny bit less than more the devout – lacking the ability to stomach the palpably ludicrous.

  42. That’s hilarious. From where I stand it’s the religious who appear mentally ill, or at the very least incredibly foolish for believing the most bizarre things and making the most bizarre claims with no evidence whatsoever.

  43. I am surprised that nobody has commented on this nasty bloke’s form. He writes fairly regular, controversial-perhaps that should be “controversialist”- articles for the Torygraph,all tinged with a terrible meanness of spirit. A bit like what I’m doing now. I conjecture that he is a sort of wannabe Peter Hitchens (be careful here 🙂 ) but without the generosity of heart.

  44. A misleading use of stats, even granting their accuracy. Not all atheists live shorter lives than all religionists. The number who do die young skews the mean. I’m not condemned to living a self-destructive, or otherwise unhealthy lifestyle just because among my group there’s a subset who may.

    I also don’t get how often a “statistically significant” difference, but marginal result in real life, is used to bolster sweeping and dramatic claims. If the likelihood of injury is increased two fold by bicycling rather than driving, but the chance of getting into a serious accident at some point is only 1 in a 1000, does that warrant saying it’s always too dangerous to bike?

  45. This seems to be a growing line of attack on those who refuse to believe in nonsense. We are sick, broken and immoral. Prof. Mark McCormick examines it here “Ad hominem: Your Sins Keep You from Seeing God” http://tinyurl.com/k7qqr7h

  46. The DSM is the diagnostic manual for mental illness. A new version just came out and atheism is not an illness.

  47. – On the Discoveroids:

    If they say that their magic agent isn’t omnipotent and benevolent, that is okay. But then it isn’t the christianist “god” they adore, but possibly the mohammedanist.

    – On the Thomasoid:

    I call bull.

    — Not having dug into his links, I haven’t seen repeated evidence for that religious people are any different in outlook, outcome et cetera than secular. And as far as I know, specifically on dying the seculars comes out as the ones with less stress.

    Rather, scientists are a good test group to show that the general hypothesis has problems: they are both more atheist (as scientists are) and more long lived (as well educated are) than the average!

    — When you adjust for tax deductions, secular people give as much money. When you adjust for giving to own group (e.g. funding for churches and its personnel), secular people are more generous to its outgroup.

    A lot of secular people have looked into the published statistics on this, so I won’t give references as it is easy to google up.

    the human mind is hard-wired for faith

    So?

    Even granting it as an observed fact, which it is not, the human mind is hard wired for sexual behavior. Does that make homosexuality or, for Ceiling Cat’ sake, asexuality, mental illnesses?

    “While some researchers assert that asexuality is a sexual orientation, other researchers disagree.” [ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asexuality ]

    I think obviously not.

    By the way, I find it humorously to claim that about half of some nation’s population (more, in China) display “mental illness”. What is “illness” and what is the control!?

    In fact, IIRC the latest DSM has withdrawn the earlier special protection religious “belief” has had as not delusional, it is now solely the already large social usage that protects it to be not seen as a mental illness! =D

    1. What the hell does hard wired mean in this context to begin with? If we’re going to declare certain propensities arising within our genetic code as hard wiring, isn’t everything then hard wired? The only thing that wouldn’t be in this context is something arising out of the brain as the sole cause and then we’re going down the road towards dualism…

    2. Here, on “delusion” in DSM-5: “A false belief based on incorrect inference about external reality that is firmly sustained despite what almost everyone else believes and despite what constitutes incontrovertible and obvious proof or evidence to the contrary. … The belief is not one ordinarily accepted by other members of the person’s culture or subculture (e.g., it is not an article of religious faith). ”

      [ http://imperfectcognitions.blogspot.se/2013/08/delusion-in-dsm-v-response-to-lisa.html ]

  48. whyevolutionistrue requested I answer some questions, “If you believe in God,, could you please provide for us the evidence a. for your God”

    a.
    As I stated previously, I think the existence of ethics, and self-conscious, reasoning human beings, and mathematics,and the structural organization of the cosmos show the universe isn’t meaningless and purposeless.

    and

    “and b. If you adhere to a specific faith, why do you think that, as opposed to others, is the right one. You must answer this question, according to the Roolz, before you can post again.”

    b.
    I don’t adhere to a specific faith, though in the recent past I was a member of the Society of Friends. However, for a number of reasons, I came to the conclusion that the Christian religion, even that espoused by liberal Quakers, isn’t probably true.

    Currently,(as I already explained in one post here), if I speculate (How could I possibly “know” the ultimate nature of reality that gave forth the Big Bang and trillions of light years, etc.?)
    As I say if I speculate, I think the outlook of Charles Hartshorne, Whitehead, and other process philosophers
    makes the most sense of existence and the facts.

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