bookmark_borderWhen Are Appeals to Human Ignorance a Legitimate Defeater of an Evidential Argument?

(A1) Evidential arguments from ‘evil’ say: known facts about the types, quantity, and distribution of good and evil are much more probable on naturalism than on theism.
(O1) Critics of evidential arguments from evil say: we don’t know that. We have far too limited an understanding of the interconnectedness of things to make such a judgment with confidence. On the assumption that theism is true (and there exists a morally perfect and omniscient being), there could easily be reasons, way beyond our understanding, why such a being would allow the facts about good and evil to obtain.
(A2) Evidential arguments from cosmic ‘fine-tuning’ say: the life permitting conditions of our universe are much more probable on theism than on naturalism.
(O2) Critics of such arguments say: we don’t know that. We have far too limited an understanding of the early universe, the total mass-energy of the universe, quantum gravity, etc. to make such judgments with confidence. (Cosmology is a very young discipline and there is much we still don’t know. For example, 95.1% of the total mass-energy of the universe is mysterious, composed of either ‘dark energy’ (68.3%) or ‘dark matter’ (26.8%).) On the assumption that naturalism, a/k/a source physicalism, is true (and there was no one around at the earliest stages of the universe’s history to make physical observations), there could easily be mechanistic explanations, way beyond our understanding, why our universe is life-permitting.
I’ve never understood why most proponents of (A2) seem to think (O1) is a good defeater of (A1) while not simultaneously thinking (O2) is a good defeater of (A2).

bookmark_borderLinks: Two Metaethical Arguments for Atheism from John J Park

Park, John. “The Moral Epistemological Argument for Atheism.” European Journal for Philosophy of Religion 7, no. 1 (n.d.): 121. doi:10.24204/EJPR.V7I1.133.

Abstract: Numerous supposed immoral mandates and commands by God found in religious texts are introduced and discussed. Such passages are used to construct a logical contradiction contention that is called the moral epistemological argument. It is shown how there is a contradiction in that God is omnibenevolent, God can instruct human beings, and God at times provideus with unethical orders and laws. Given the existence of the contradiction, it is argued that an omnibenevolent God does not exist. Finally, this contention is defended from several objections.

Park, John Jung. “The Problem of Error: The Moral Psychology Argument for Atheism.” Erkenntnis, n.d. doi:10.1007/S10670-017-9900-8.

Abstract: The problem of error is an old argument for atheism that can be found in Medieval and Early Modern Philosophy. Although it is not widely discussed in the contemporary literature in the Philosophy of Religion, I resurrect it and give it a modern spin. By relying on empirical studies in moral psychology that demonstrate that moral judgments from human beings are generally susceptible to certain psychological biases, such as framing and order effects, I claim that if God is responsible for making human beings such that we have these biases, this means that God is not a perfect being. The findings in empirical moral psychology create a problem for the existence of God, traditionally conceived.

bookmark_borderThe Logic of Miracles – Part 6: The Problem of Evil

THE PROBLEM OF EVIL

The problem of evil is concerned with whether the existence of evil (or of particular kinds or amounts of evil) is logically incompatible with the existence of God or provides significant evidence against the existence of God.  The “logical” problem of evil focuses on whether evil (or particular kinds or amounts of evil) is logically incompatible with the existence of God.  The “evidential” problem of evil focuses on whether evil (or particular kinds or amounts of evil) provides significant evidence against the existence of God.
G. God exists.
E. Evil exists.
There are four logical possibilities concerning the above two claims:

 
 
 
 
 
 
Christianity asserts that both (G) and (E) are true.
The logical problem of evil arises because God, according to traditional Christian theology, traditional Jewish theology, and traditional Islamic theology, is omnipotent (all powerful), omniscient (all knowing), and perfectly morally good.
One way to avoid the logical problem of evil is to opt for a finite and imperfect god, a god who is less than omnipotent, and/or less than omniscient, and/or less than perfectly morally good.  If you believe in an imperfect god, then evil is not a problem, at least evil does not rule out the possibility of a finite and imperfect god.  But such a god seems unworthy of worship, devotion, and unquestioning obedience, so traditional Christian theology, traditional Jewish theology, and traditional Islamic theology hold the view that God is a perfect being who possesses the divine attributes of omnipotence, omniscience, and perfect moral goodness.
Some philosophers and apologists put forward a DEFENSE of the goodness of God, which is an attempt to show that the existence of God is logically compatible with the existence of evil (or a particular kind or amount of evil).  A DEFENSE is thus an attempted reply to the logical problem of evil.
Other philosophers and apologists put forward a THEODICY, which is an attempt to show that the existence of evil (or a particular kind or amount of evil) fails to provide significant or powerful evidence against the existence of God, so that belief in the existence of God is still reasonable and justified even in view of the existence of evil (or of a particular kind or amount of evil).
In this and future posts, I will be considering various THEODICIES to see if any of them are plausible without making use of assumptions about the PLANS or PURPOSES of God.  I strongly suspect than any THEODICY must make use of such assumptions in order to have any hope of being a plausible THEODICY.

THE AUGUSTINIAN THEODICY

The main traditional Christian THEODICY comes from Augustine, and was used and developed further by Aquinas.
One element of this traditional THEODICY is that evil is a “privation”.  The idea is that everything that exists is basically good, and that there are no evil things, per se.  Evil exists, but not as a kind of thing.  Rather evil is a disorder, disfunction, imperfection, perversion, or brokenness of something that is basically good.
A bucket with a hole in it, is a disfunctional and imperfect bucket, because the hole causes water (and other liquids) to leak out of the bucket, making the bucket imperfect and less functional than it would be if it had no hole.  Buckets are good things, but buckets with holes in them are imperfect and less than fully functional.
The idea that evil is a privation allows for the possibility that God created everything, and that everything was good; there was no evil created by God.  But this idea of evil as a privation does NOT get God off the hook for the existence of evil.
Suppose that you buy a new car, and the new car works perfectly for one week.  But then your one-week old car starts sputtering, hesitating, backfiring, spewing smoke out the tailpipe, and refuses to go over ten miles an hour.  You make it two blocks and then there is a loud bang, the engine dies, and it refuses to start up again.  You have the car towed to the dealership.  Why?  Because it is a brand new car.  The fact that it worked perfectly for one week is of no great credit to the designer and manufacturer of the car.  The fact that it broke down after only one week reflects poorly on the designer and/or manufacturer of the car.
Similarly, even if the universe and everything in it worked perfectly for a few years or a few centuries, if the universe broke down and became disfunctional, disordered, and corrupted, then that would reflect poorly on the person who designed and/or made the universe (if the universe was designed and made).  So, if the creator made a universe which was subject to breaking, to becoming disordered, disfunctional, and imperfect, then the creator can be blamed for having made a faulty universe, even if the universe and everything in it worked perfectly for a few years or a few centuries.
If there was a perfect designer and creator of the universe, then we would expect the universe to not only work perfectly for a few years or a few centuries, rather, we would expect the universe to continue to work perfectly forever.  But according to the Bible and to Augustine, the universe became corrupted and disfunctional very soon after it was created.
Thus, the idea that evil is a privation does NOT let God or the CREATOR of the universe off the hook for the evil that exists in the universe.  A perfect CREATOR should be able to design and make a universe that runs perfectly for more than a few years or a few centuries.  A perfect CREATOR should be able to design and make a universe that runs perfectly forever, a universe that never breaks down, never becomes disfunctional or disordered, that never becomes flawed or imperfect.
But wait a minute.  What if a person buys a brand new car, but then horribly abuses and misuses that car?  What if someone takes a brand new car and drives it into a lake or into an ocean?  What if someone drives a brand new car off of a cliff?  or drives a new car at 100 miles per hour and then steers the car into a solid concrete wall?  What if someone takes a brand new car and fills the interior of the car with wet concrete? or fills the gas tank with sulfuric acid?
Such a car would probably become disfunctional, disordered, and imperfect in a matter of days or hours.  That would NOT be the fault of the people who designed the car, nor would it be the fault of the people who manufactured the car.  Taking the broken and disfunctional car back to the dealer would be unreasonable, because the blame for the disfunction and disorder of the car would be squarely on the person who severely abused and misused the car.
This scenario of abuse and misuse of a new car is similar to the appeal to Free Will by Augustine and Aquinas to explain evil and to justify the perfect goodness of the CREATOR of the universe.  The creator made the universe and everything in it perfectly good, without any disfunction, disorder, or imperfection.  But human beings through bad choices abused and misused things and each other, causing disfunction, disorder, and imperfection to come into existence.  There was no evil when God finished making the universe, but human beings corrupted a perfectly good universe and the things in it, causing disfunction, disorder, and imperfection.  God made the universe, but human beings broke the universe by making bad choices.  God did not create evil; humans created evil.
However, this explanation of evil still does NOT let the CREATOR of the universe off the hook.  There is an important disanalogy between the scenario of the owner of a new car abusing the car and the scenario of human beings making bad choices resulting in evil in the universe.  The designers and makers of the new car did not design and make the human being who purchased the new car, so they are not responsible for the bad choices of the owner of the new car.  But the creator of the universe is ALSO the creator of the human beings who make the bad choices that (allegedly) caused evil to come into existence.
The CREATOR designed and produced human beings, so the bad choices of human beings are, at least indirectly, the result of the actions of the CREATOR.  This is particularly the case if the CREATOR happens to be omniscient, because then the CREATOR must have KNOWN in advance that human beings would make bad choices, and thus cause the universe to become disfunctional, disordered, and broken. The CREATOR would have known that these creatures would bring about the existence of evil.  Thus, in deciding to make human beings, the CREATOR determined that evil would come into existence.
There is more, of course, to say in defense of Augustine’s THEODICY.  The value of Free Will, it is thought, outweighs the disvalue of the evils that the CREATOR knew human beings would bring into existence, so one could argue that the CREATOR was morally justified in making human beings with Free Will even knowing all of the various horrible evils that would result from this.
But there is a different and huge problem with Augustine’s THEODICY that makes it implausible.  Evil existed BEFORE human beings existed.  Pain, suffering, injury, disease, violence and death did NOT begin after human beings came into existence.  These evils existed for millions of years before any human being walked the face of planet Earth.  So, the bad choices of human beings cannot be the cause of those evils that existed for millions of years before human beings existed.  The universe was badly broken long before human beings came along.
Furthermore, there is no evidence that there was ever a golden age on the Earth when there was no pain, suffering, injury, disease and death.  Although there was a time when there was no injury, disease, and death, that was a time when there was NOTHING that was alive.  There was also a time when there was no pain and no suffering, but that was a time before there were sentient animals.  As soon as there were living things, there was injury, disease, and death.  As soon as there were sentient animals, there was pain and suffering.  There was no golden age when there were living things but no death.  There was no golden age when there were sentient animals but no pain or suffering.  The Augustinian THEODICY is based upon an empirically FALSE description of the natural history of the planet Earth.
In the next post, I will discuss the question of whether the Augustinian THEODICY involves some assumptions about the PLANS or PURPOSES of God (or of the CREATOR of the universe).

bookmark_borderOpening Statement from My Debate with Frank Turek

Although I’ve recently been too busy to spend any time writing original content for this blog, I’ve decided to post my opening statement from my 2016 debate with Frank Turek. Enjoy!


Introduction

Good evening! I’d like to thank Craig Freerksen for organizing this debate. I’d also like to thank Dr. Turek for agreeing to participate. Finally, I’d like to thank all veterans, including my opponent, for defending the right to have a debate like this. Now, speaking of our country, I thought I’d borrow a slogan from the presidential campaign. I’m not selling any hats, but I’m here to “make atheism great again.”

Definitions

In this debate, we’ve been asked to assess what best explains reality: naturalism or theism? Before we can answer that question, we need to have some idea of what we’re talking about, so let me begin by defining some terms.
First, by “naturalism,” I mean the view that the physical exists and, if the mental exists, the physical explains why the mental exists.[1] If naturalism is true, then there are no purely mental beings which can exist apart from a physical body and so there is no God or any person or being much like God.
Second, by “supernaturalism,” I mean the view that the mental exists and, if the physical exists, the mental explains why anything physical exists.[2] If supernaturalism is true, then there is no purely physical matter which can exist without some sort of ultimate mental creator.
Third, “personal supernaturalism” is a type of supernaturalism; it adds on the claims that one or more personal mental entities exist and, if a physical world exists, it or they produced the physical world for a purpose.[3]
Fourth, “theism” is a type of personal supernaturalism; it adds on the claim that there is just one mental entity, God, who is all-powerful, all-knowing, and morally perfect.[4]
Finally, fifth, “otherism” is a catch-all category. It says that both naturalism and supernaturalism are false.[5]
Now the question before us in tonight’s debate is this. What best explains reality: theism or naturalism?
In support of a naturalistic answer to that question, I’m going to defend three basic contentions:
(1) The best explanation is the explanation with the overall greatest balance of intrinsic probability and accuracy;
(2) Naturalism is an intrinsically more probable explanation than theism; and
(3) Naturalism is a more accurate explanation than theism.

First Contention

Let’s look, then, at my first basic contention: the best explanation is the explanation with the overall greatest balance of intrinsic probability and accuracy.
By “intrinsic probability” of a hypothesis, I mean the probability independent of the evidence we have for or against it. The intrinsic probability of a hypothesis is determined entirely by its modesty and coherence.[6]
By “accuracy” of a hypothesis, I mean the degree to which a hypothesis’s predictions correspond to reality. We measure accuracy by looking at “evidence.”
By “evidence” I mean something which makes something else more probable than it would have been otherwise. Let me give you an example.[7] Imagine you have two jars of red and blue jellybeans. In the first jar, 90% of the jellybeans are blue and the rest are red. In the second jar, 90% of the jellybeans are red and the rest are blue.
Now imagine you are handed a jelly bean from one of the jars, but you don’t know which jar it came from. If it’s a blue bean, that’s evidence it came from the first jar, not the second. The blue bean doesn’t disprove that it came from the second jar because the second jar also has blue beans, but it’s more likely that it came from the first because there are more blue jellybeans in the first than in the second. Similarly, if it’s a red bean, that’s evidence it came from the second jar. The red bean doesn’t disprove that it came from from the first jar because the first jar also has red beans, but it’s more likely that it came from the second because it has many more red beans.
Mathematicians have a formula called Bayes’ Theorem, which can be used to specify the relationship between intrinsic probability, accuracy, and the overall or final probability of a hypothesis. It follows from Bayes’ Theorem that a hypothesis is probably true, just in case it has a greater overall balance of intrinsic probability and explanatory power than do its alternatives collectively.

Second Contention

Let’s look, then, at my second basic contention: naturalism is an intrinsically more probable explanation than theism.
Intrinsic probability is determined by modesty, coherence, and nothing else. By “modesty,” I mean a measure of how much the hypothesis asserts.[8] The more a hypothesis claims, the more ways there are for it to be false and so, before we start looking at evidence, the less likely it is to be true.
By “coherence,” I mean a measure of how well the parts of a hypothesis fit together.[9] If the different parts count against each other, the hypothesis is less coherent and less likely to be true.
Now consider naturalism and supernaturalism. They are symmetrical claims: naturalism claims that the physical explains the mental, while supernaturalism claims that the mental explains the physical. Both claims are equally modest and equally coherent. Before examining the evidence, both positions are equally likely to be true.[10]
With these definitions in mind, then, I can now defend my second contention. Theism is a type of supernaturalism but could be false even if supernaturalism is true. Furthermore, theism is less modest than either supernaturalism or naturalism. Therefore, before we look at evidence, it is less likely to be true than supernaturalism or naturalism.[11] But that entails that naturalism is intrinsically more probable than theism.

Third Contention

Finally, let’s move onto my third contention: naturalism is a more accurate explanation than theism for many facts.
I’d like to present seven lines of evidence that are red jellybeans, i.e., things more probable on naturalism than on theism.[12]

Physical Matter

(1) Naturalism is the best explanation for the fact that physical reality exists.[13]
If naturalism is true, then physical reality must exist. That’s just part of what naturalism means.
If theism is true, however, things look quite different. The existence of physical reality doesn’t disprove theism; if God exists, God could have created physical space, matter, and energy as part of a plan to create a universe for human beings. But God could have also chosen to create other minds without physical bodies, such as angels. Or God could have chosen to create nothing at all. In other words, God’s existence doesn’t require a physical reality.
So because the physical has to exist on naturalism but does not have to exist on theism, it follows that the existence of physical reality is evidence favoring naturalism over theism.

Success of Science

(2) Naturalism is the best explanation for the fact that science has been so successful without the supernatural.[14]
Imagine a library that contains textbooks for all of the sciences—such as physics, chemistry, and biology—and summarizes current scientific knowledge. The percentage of such knowledge which makes no appeal to the supernatural is extremely high.
Of course, one hears about specific scientific questions which (allegedly) do not have a plausible naturalistic explanation, such as cosmological fine-tuning, the origin of life, and consciousness. But, even if that is or were true, the history of science contains numerous examples of naturalistic explanations replacing supernatural ones and no examples of the reverse. Indeed, naturalistic explanations have been so successful that even most theists concede that supernatural explanations are, in general, unlikely to be true.
Such explanatory success is just what we would expect on naturalism–which entails that all supernatural explanations are false–than it is on theism.[15] And that’s my second line of evidence against theism.

Biological Evolution

(3) Naturalism is the best explanation for the fact that complex life  evolved from simple life.[16]
I’m going to list five scientific facts which support biological evolution. Since Dr. Turek likes acronyms, I’m going to give you the evidence in an acronym, BONES.

  • B is for biogeography;
  • O is for vestigial organs;
  • N is for natural selection;
  • E is for embryology; and
  • S is for stratified fossil record.

Let’s look very briefly at each of these.

Biogeography

First, the evidence indicates that the habitats of plants and animals are distributed in a puzzling way. For example, why are there no land-based mammals on any island more than 300 miles away from the mainland? As University of Chicago biologist Jerry Coyne puts it, “The biogeographic evidence for evolution is now so powerful that I have never seen a creationist book, article, or lecture that has tried to refute it.”[17]

Vestigial Organs

Secondly, a variety of animals have organs which display traits that would be unnecessary if the organs had been designed from scratch, but would have been useful to an ancestor.

Natural Selection

Thirdly, when the genetic differences between living things provides an advantage, things with that advantage tend to be more successful at survival and reproduction than things without that advantage. This is the essence of the process Darwin called natural selection.

Embryology

Fourthly, as Coyne points out, the evidence indicates that all vertebrate embryos begin development in the same way, looking like embryonic fish, but as they progress, they often go through strange contortions before reaching their final form.[18]

Stratified Fossil Record

Fifthly, the available fossil evidence indicates that as one goes from the oldest to the youngest layers of the fossil record, the layers show gradual change from simple to more complex life forms.
Taken together, the BONES evidence is much more probable on biological evolution (which says that complex life evolved from simple life through trans-generational genetic change)[19] than it is on special creationism (which says that God created all life virtually simultaneously).[20]
If either naturalism or supernaturalism is true, life could exist or not exist. If naturalism is true and life exists, evolution pretty much has to be true. But if theism is true, God didn’t have to use evolution. Furthermore, since theism says that at least one mind existed before any physical matter, it gives a reason to expect that any other minds are fundamentally nonphysical. But that, in turn, leads us to predict conscious life was created independently of nonconscious life, contrary to what evolution claims.[21] So theism predicts that evolution is false.
Thus, the scientific fact of evolution is more likely on naturalism than on theism, and so that’s my third line of evidence against theism.

Pain and Pleasure

(4) Naturalism is the best explanation for the biological role (and moral randomness) of pain and pleasure.[22]
I’m going to give three lines of evidence.
First, moral agents experiencing biologically useful pain and pleasure.
Suppose you are a teenager sleeping in a hotel that has caught on fire. The hotel is old and doesn’t have smoke alarms. The fire gets closer and closer to you until you are actually in pain from the smoke and the intense heat. Your pain wakes you up in time for you to escape; you survive and start a family in your twenties. Your pain in this case was biologically useful because it contributed to your survival. This is just what we would expect on naturalism (and human beings are the products of evolution by natural selection).
Second, moral patients experiencing biologically useful pain and pleasure.
Most human beings are moral agents, people who can be held responsible for their actions and their consequences. But some human beings, such as young children and humans with certain mental disabilities, as well as non-human sentient animals, such as primates and dolphins, are moral patients: sentient beings who can be harmed from their own point of view, but are not responsible for their actions.
On naturalism, we would expect that (biological) sentient beings, including moral patients, would experience pain and pleasure because moral patients are biologically similar to moral agents. On theism, however, we would predict that moral patients do not suffer the same kind of pain as moral agents because such pain plays no known moral role in the lives of the moral patients who experience it.
Third, sentient beings experiencing gratuitous pain and pleasure.
Consider, for example, an animal trapped in a forest fire, suffering horrific pain as it slowly burned to death. On the one hand, this kind of pain is biologically appropriate: it is biologically useful that animals in general feel pain when they come in contact with fire. But, on the other hand, this specific instance of pain was not biologically useful because it did not contribute to the biological goals of survival or reproduction.
On naturalism, this is just what we would expect.  If naturalism is true, all animals are the byproducts of unguided evolution by natural selection, which is both indifferent to suffering and incapable of preventing it.
But if theism is true, God could “fine tune” animals so that they only experience physical pain and pleasure when it was morally necessary. So theism leads us to expect that pain and pleasure are fundamentally moral phenomena, which just happens to be connected to the biological goals of survival and reproduction. That’s a huge coincidence that naturalism doesn’t need.
So this evidence is very much more probable on naturalism than on theism.

Mind-Brain Dependence

(5) Naturalism is the best explanation for the fact that human minds are dependent upon the physical brain.[23]
Philosopher Paul Draper of Purdue University puts it this way: “Consciousness and personality are highly dependent on the brain. Nothing mental happens without something physical happening.”[24] Now Michael Tooley, a philosopher at the University of Colorado at Boulder, has stated five lines of evidence in support of this claim.[25]

  • When an individual’s brain is directly stimulated and put into a certain physical state, this causes the person to have a corresponding experience.
  • Certain injuries to the brain make it impossible for a person to have any mental states at all.
  • Other injuries to the brain destroy various mental capacities. Which capacity is destroyed is tied directly to the particular region of the brain that was damaged.
  • When we examine the mental capacities of animals, they become more complex as their brains become more complex.
  • Within any given species, the development of mental capacities is correlated with the development of neurons in the brain.

Take together, this evidence is much more probable on physicalism, which says that the mind is made only of physical matter, than it is on dualism, which says says that the mind is made of two substances (the physical and the mental). if God exists, God is not in any sense dependent on physical arrangements of matter. So theism entails the existence of at least one unembodied mind. Furthermore, if God wanted to create other minds, he didn’t need them dependent on physical brains.
So the dependence of human minds on brains is evidence against the existence of any being who is supposed to have an unembodied mind, including God. Therefore, the physical nature of minds is evidence favoring naturalism over theism.

Empathy and Apathy

(6) Naturalism is the best explanation for the neurological basis of empathy and apathy, including some moral handicaps.[26]
In many cases, our ability to choose do morally good actions depends upon our having properly functioning emotional capacities, especially empathy, i.e., our ability to identify what someone else is thinking or feeling and to respond to their thoughts and feelings with an appropriate emotion.[27]
We now know, thanks to the relatively new discipline of neuroscience, that certain brain abnormalities cause people to experience less or even no empathy.[28] According to Simon Baron-Cohen of Cambridge University, “There is a consensus in neuroscience that at least ten interconnected brain regions are involved in empathy.”[29] These regions are shown on the slide.
For example, violent psychopaths may know in some abstract sense that their behavior is morally wrong, but utterly lack empathy.[30]
While theism is compatible with a neurological basis for moral handicaps, the fact that at least some moral handicaps can be explained neurologically is much more probable on naturalism than on theism. If theism is true, then that means both 

(a) God creates some human beings with moral handicaps that are not the result of the freely chosen actions of any human being;

and

(b) These moral handicaps make it more likely that they will harm others.

What moral justification would God have for allowing both (a) and (b) to obtain? This seems utterly surprising and completely random from a theistic, moral point of view, but precisely what we would expect on naturalism (and blind nature is indifferent to the moral consequences of brain abnormalities).[31]

Nonresistant Nonbelief

(7) Naturalism is the best explanation for nonresistant nonbelief (in God).[32]
Imagine you’re growing up in an orphanage and I told you I had met a man who claims to be your father and who really wants a relationship with you. Days, weeks, even months go by but you never actually meet your father. You never get a card, letter, phone call. In fact, the only evidence that your father is alive is my claim that he exists. Why haven’t you heard from him? Perhaps your father is ashamed for abandoning you. Or maybe he’s a prisoner of war and his captors won’t even let him write you. Although you hope your father is alive and wants to meet you, you remain skeptical.
Just as you do not believe your father is alive and wants to meet you, there are people who do not believe that God exists.[33] But notice that, whatever reasons we might invent to explain your earthly father’s absence do not explain their heavenly father’s absence.
At least some of the people who deny God’s existence are “nonresistant” nonbelievers. As philosopher John Schellenberg explains, their nonbelief is “not in any way the result of their own emotional or behavioral opposition towards God or relationship with God or any of the apparent implications of such a relationship.”[34] Such nonbelievers are open to having a relationship with God—in fact, they may even want it—but are unable to have such a relationship. But why, if God exists, does that happen?
On naturalism, blind nature doesn’t care whether anyone believes in God and so the fact of nonresistant nonbelievers is hardly surprising. On theism, however, this fact is very surprising. On theism, we would expect a perfectly loving God to always make a meaningful relationship available to those He loves.

Conclusion

So, in sum, we’ve seen seven lines of evidence that naturalism is true. I also happen to think there is some evidence for theism, but that it is outweighed by the evidence for naturalism.[35] In my other speeches, I will explain why I think this as I respond to Dr. Turek’s arguments.[36]

Notes

[1] I owe this definition to Paul Draper.
[2] I owe this definition to Paul Draper.
[3] This definition is similar to, but not identical with, one offered by Paul Draper.
[4] I owe this definition to Paul Draper.
[5] I owe this definition to Paul Draper.
[6] I owe this to Paul Draper.
[7] I owe this jelly bean analogy to Paul Draper. Draper’s full analogy also includes an equal number of yellow jelly beans in both jars, where yellow signifies something that is equally likely to have come from either jar and hence is not evidence that it came from either jar. I have omitted the yellow jelly beans solely in the interest of time.
[8] I owe this definition to Paul Draper.
[9] I owe this definition to Paul Draper.
[10] Paul Draper, “God and the Burden of Proof,” Secular Outpost (July 21, 2014), https://secularfrontier.infidels.org/2014/07/21/new-by-paul-draper-god-and-the-burden-of-proof/
[11] Paul Draper, “More Pain and Pleasure: A Reply to Otte” in Christian Faith and the Problem of Evil (ed. Peter van Inwagen, Eerdmans, 2004), 41-54 at 49.
[12] Let N stand for naturalism, T for theism, and F for any of these facts. Using the symbol “Pr(F | H)” to stand for the epistemic probability that F is true conditional upon H, then the claim that some fact is evidence favoring naturalism over theism should be understood as the claim that Pr(F | N) > Pr(F | T).
[13] Jeffery Jay Lowder, “Potential Objections to Swinburne’s Cosmological Argument,” The Secular Outpost (March 17, 2014), https://secularfrontier.infidels.org/2014/03/17/potential-objections-to-swinburnes-cosmological-argument/. Note that here I am using the word “matter” as a way to provide a concrete example of something “physical.”
[14] See Keith M. Parsons, Science, Confirmation, and the Theistic Hypothesis (Ph.D. Dissertation, Kingston, Ontario, Canada: Queen’s University, 1986), 46; Paul Draper, “Evolution and the Problem of Evil” in Philosophy of Religion: An Anthology (3rd ed., ed. Louis Pojman, Wadsworth, 1997), 223-24; and idem, “God, Science, and Naturalism” Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Religion (ed. William Wainwright, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 272-303; and Barbara Forrest, “Methodological Naturalism and Philosophical Naturalism: Clarifying the Connection” Philo 3 (2000): 7-29.
[15] Draper 2004.
[16] See Paul Draper, “Evolution and the Problem of Evil” in Philosophy of Religion: An Anthology (3rd ed., ed. Louis Pojman, Wadsworth, 1997), 219-230; cf. Louis P. Pojman, Philosophy of Religion (Mayfield, 2001), chapter 6.
[17] Jerry Coyne, Why Evolution is True (New York: Penguin, 2009), 88.
[18] Coyne 2009, 56.
[19] Draper 1997, 221.
[20] I’m using “virtually simultaneously” as a shorthand way of accounting for the seven literal days described in Genesis 1, in order to contrast that chronology with the sort of geological timescales needed for evolution.
[21] Draper 1997, 224.
[22] Paul Draper, “Pain and Pleasure: An Evidential Problem for Theists.” Nous 23 (June, 1989), 331-350.
[23] Jeffery Jay Lowder, “The Evidential Argument from Physical Minds,” The Secular Outpost (https://secularfrontier.infidels.org/2012/06/13/the-evidential-argument-from-physical-minds-apm/), June 13, 2012.
[24] Paul Draper, “Opening Statement” in William Lane Craig and Paul Draper, Does God Exist? (videotape, West Point, NY, 1996).
[25] Michael Tooley, “Dr. Tooley’s Opening Arguments”  in William Lane Craig and Michael Tooley, The Craig-Tooley Debate: Does God Exist? (http://www.leaderu.com/offices/billcraig/docs/craig-tooley2.html), 1994, spotted 25 Jan 99.
[26] Jeffery Jay Lowder, “The Evidential Argument from Physical Minds,” The Secular Outpost (https://secularfrontier.infidels.org/2012/06/13/the-evidential-argument-from-physical-minds-apm/), June 13, 2012.
[27] Simon Baron-Cohen, The Science of Evil: On Empathy and the Origins of Cruelty (New York: Basic Books, 2012), 16.
[28] Baron-Cohen 2012, 39.
[29] Baron-Cohen 2012, 28.
[30] As Baron-Cohen points out, the neurological basis for moral handicaps challenges traditional views about moral responsibility. “If zero degrees of empathy is really a form of neurological disability, to what extent can such an individual who commits a crime be held responsible for what they have done? This gets tangled up with the free will debate, for if zero degrees of empathy leaves an individual to some extent “blind” to the impact of their actions on others’ feelings, then surely they deserve our sympathy rather than punishment.” See Baron-Cohen 2012, 160.
[31] Some theists have pointed out that moral evil, such as fallen angels or demons choosing to do evil, might explain so-called “natural evils.” This argument makes the inverse point: certain natural evils explain at least some moral evil.
[32] J.L. Schellenberg, Divine Hiddenness and Human Reason (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1993); idem, 2007.
[33] This sentence, of course, assumes that at least some (if not most) professions of atheism are genuine. Those familiar with intra-Christian debates on apologetic methodologies will notice that I have just ruled out the claim of some (or all?) presuppositionalists, namely, that there are no atheists and instead there are only professed atheists. I agree with  John Schellenberg: “it would take something like willful blindness to fail to affirm that not all nonbelief is the product of willful blindness (even if some of it is).” See J.L. Schellenberg, “What Divine Hiddenness Reveals, or How Weak Theistic Evidence is Strong Atheistic Proof” God or Blind Nature? Philosophers Debate the Evidence (http://infidels.org/library/modern/john_schellenberg/hidden.html), 2008.
[34] Schellenberg 2008.
[35] It follows from a Bayesian approach to evidence sketched in my first contention that there can be “true evidence” for a false proposition. Consider, for example, people convicted on the basis of eyewitness testimony for crimes they didn’t commit, only to be exonerated years or decades later by DNA evidence. The eyewitness testimony was some evidence for a false proposition (“The defendant is guilty”), but it was greatly outweighed by the DNA evidence against that false proposition. The fact that there can be true evidence for false propositions should serve as a “warning flag” to anyone who wants to claim that there is absolutely no evidence for naturalism (or theism). “There is no evidence for naturalism (or theism)” does not follow from “Naturalism (or theism) is false” or even “I believe naturalism (or theism) is false.”
[36] I am grateful to Paul Draper, John Danaher, Robert Greg Cavin, and Eddie Tabash for helpful comments on a previous version of this speech.

bookmark_borderSkepticism about Religion – Part 6: Cultural Bias and Social Conditioning

=========================
II. There are good reasons to be SKEPTICAL about religion and religious beliefs.

A. Religion is NOT the key to Happiness and Virtue, contrary to common belief.

B. Significant Disagreements exist Between Different Religions.

C. Religious Beliefs are Typically Based on Cultural Bias and Social Conditioning.

========================
 
Religious Beliefs Are Associated with Geographical Locations
The religion of a person can often be accurately predicted based on where they were raised.  For example, if someone was born and raised in Saudi Arabia or in Turkey, it is almost certain that he or she is a Muslim, because nearly 100% of the populations of those countries are Muslims.  If someone was born and raised in the Honduras, Venezuela, or Bolivia, it is almost certain that he or she is a Christian, because nearly 100% of the populations of those countries are Christians (in fact it is highly probable that such a person is a Roman Catholic).  If someone was born and raised in Cambodia or Thailand, then it is highly probable that he or she is a Buddhist, because about 95% of the populations of those countries are Buddhists.*
If someone was born and raised in Norway, then it is highly probable that he or she is a Christian, because 98% of the population of Norway are Christians (in fact it is highly probable that this person is a Lutheran).  If someone was born and raised in Greece, then it is highly probable that he or she is a Christian, because 98% of the population of Greece are Christians (in fact, it is highly probable that he or she is a Greek Orthodox Christian).  If someone was born and raised in India, then it is very probable that he or she is either a Hindu or a Muslim, because 81% of the population of India are Hindus and 13% are Muslims, so 94% of the population is either Hindu or Muslim.
There is more of a mix of religions in the USA than in most of the countries I have mentioned above, but Christianity is clearly the predominant religion, and “nones”  (non-religiously-affiliated people) are the next largest group in terms of “religious” identification.  So, if all you know is that a person was born and raised in the USA, you can reasonably predict that this person will either be a Christian or a  person who has no religious affiliation, because 71% of the population of the USA are Christians and 23% are nones, so 94% of the population in the USA are either Christians or nones (http://www.pewforum.org/religious-landscape-study/).
 
Religious Beliefs are Typically Based on Cultural Bias and Social Conditioning
Why is the religion of a person so closely related to the location where he or she was born and raised?  The answer is obvious: religious beliefs are typically based on cultural bias and social conditioning.  People who are born and raised in Turkey or Saudi Arabia are raised to be Muslims.  People who are born and raised in Venezuela or Bolivia are raised to be Christians.  People who are born and raised in Cambodia or Thailand are raised to be Buddhists.  The society or culture of the country where one is born and raised has a great deal of influence over which religion one will believe and practice.
Another relevant fact is that people do NOT typically carefully study a wide variety of religious and secular viewpoints and then decide which one to believe and practice.  It is true that a few people do this as adults, but they are a tiny minority.  Most people simply accept the religion (or the secular viewpoint) of their parents, or the predominant religion/worldview in their ethnic group or community or nation.  Religion is typically a matter of GROUP THINK, of accepting a point of view without doing any serious investigation and inquiry.  It is sad but true that the most important beliefs we hold are typically adopted without doing any serious thinking.  The alternative to doing a serious comparison between alternative religions is the path of least resistance: believe and practice the religion that is most common in your ethnic group or community or country.
One more bit of evidence confirms my thesis: religious people are usually skeptical about the beliefs and practices of other religions, but not about the beliefs and practices of the religion they were raised to believe and practice.  Theists, for example, reject belief in thousands of gods, but believe in just one infinite god, the one god that their culture and upbringing promotes.  Christians are skeptical about the existence of various gods worshiped by polytheists.
This appears to involve use of a double-standard. We either need to indiscriminately accept ALL religions on the basis of little or no evidence, or else we need to be skeptical about ALL religions.  We either need to accept belief in ALL alleged gods and supernatural beings on the basis of little or no evidence, or else we need to be skeptical about ALL gods and ALL supernatural beings (This is a point that John Loftus rightly emphasizes in his book  The Outsider Test for Faith).
Because it is clear that religious beliefs are typically based on cultural bias and social conditioning, we have GOOD REASON to be skeptical about religion and religious beliefs.
===================
* The statistics I give on the religions of populations of countries other than the USA are from this source:
https://www.infoplease.com/world/countries-world/world-religions

bookmark_borderSkepticism about Religion – Part 5: Disagreement between Religions

=========================
II. There are good reasons to be SKEPTICAL about religion and religious beliefs.

A. Religion is NOT the key to Happiness and Virtue, contrary to common belief.

B. Significant Disagreements exist Between Different Religions.

========================
Significant Disagreements exist Between Different Religions
According to Christianity, Jesus was God incarnate, fully God and fully human.  But according to Judaism and Islam, Jesus was, at most, a prophet, a human being who was devout and who had a close relationship with God.  According to Judaism and Islam, Jesus was NOT God incarnate.  This is not a minor disagreement.  That Jesus was God incarnate is a very basic Christian belief, in both Catholic and Orthodox theology, and also in most Protestant traditions.
Jews and Muslims are fiercely monotheistic and they view the claim that Jesus was God incarnate as a very basic theological error, even as blasphemy.  So, if Christianity is true, then Judaism and Islam are fundamentally mistaken, and if either Judaism or Islam are true, then Christianity is fundamentally mistaken.  Either Jesus was God incarnate or he was NOT God incarnate.  At least one of these three major religions is false or fundamentally mistaken, and it is possible that ALL THREE are false religions.  For example, if atheism or pantheism were true, then ALL THREE of these Western religions would be fundamentally mistaken about the nature of reality.
Western religions agree that humans get just one life, and then must face divine judgment.  But Hinduism and Buddhism claim that people can, and usually do, experience many lifetimes, and that there is no day of judgment, just the possibility of obtaining release from the cycle of reincarnation when one eventually achieves enlightenment.
Buddhism is not particularly interested in God or gods.  Any god must face the same basic problem that humans face: everything changes, nothing stays the same; if you love someone or desire something you can enjoy it for a while, but it will eventually die, be destroyed, or mutate into something else that you don’t love and don’t desire.  This is a problem that each person must overcome on his or her own.   This is not a problem that a god can fix for us.
Hinduism encompasses a wide variety of metaphysical views: monotheism, polytheism, pantheism, and even atheism.  So, there are contradictions and disagreements on very basic metaphysical issues just within Hinduism, disagreements between various traditions encompassed by the term “Hinduism”.
Eastern religions and Western religions disagree about the basic problem that humans face and need to resolve; they have conflicting views about what happens after we die.  We either have just one life or we get to experience many lives.  If one of the Western religions is true, then we only get one life, and Buddhism and Hinduism are false or are fundamentally mistaken about the nature of death and about the basic problem that humans need to resolve.  If, however, we get to experience many lives, then Christianity, Judaism, and Islam are all false, or are fundamentally mistaken about the nature of death and about the basic problem that we need to resolve.
The major world religions contradict each other, and not just on minor points.  They disagree about some of the most basic and important issues that religions address.  At best only ONE of the major world religions can be true, only ONE can be consistently correct about it’s basic teachings, and the rest are false or are fundamentally mistaken about some of their most basic teachings.
Furthermore, it is possible that ALL of the major religions of the world are FALSE.  If, for example, there is no life after death, then some of the basic teachings of Christianity (2.4 billion), Islam (1.8 billion), Hinduism (1.2 billion), Buddhism (520 million), Shinto (100 million), Sikhism (30 million), Judaism (17 million), Caodaism (8 million), Bahai (6 million), Jainism (4 million), and Zoroastrianism (190 thousand) are fundamentally mistaken.*
There are many different religions, and all of them claim to teach the truth about the basic problem(s) of human life, the best solution(s) to the basic problem of human life, the nature of reality, and the nature of death, but they disagree with each other on all of these issues, and other basic religious issues.  This gives us good reason to be skeptical about religions and religious claims.  Without doing any serious investigation, we can quickly determine that NEARLY ALL religions are FALSE or mistaken about some of their basic teachings.  Without doing any serious investigation, we can determine that it is also possible that ALL of the major religions of the world are false or fundamentally mistaken about some of their basic teachings.
But all religions claim to be true, and to derive their religious truths from religious experience and/or a religious authority (a prophet, a guru, a priest, etc.).  Since we know that ALMOST ALL religions are FALSE or mistaken about some of their basic teachings, this gives us good reason to be skeptical about religious claims to truth and knowledge.
There MIGHT be a true religion in the world, and there MIGHT be a form of religious experience or a particular religious authority  who provides us with reliable answers to basic religious questions, but we know, even before doing any serious investigation,  that the vast majority of religions are false or fundamentally mistaken about some of their basic teachings, and that the vast majority of alleged religious authorities do NOT provide reliable answers to basic religious questions.  The disagreements and contradictions between the many and various religions of the world give us GOOD REASON to be skeptical about religion and religious beliefs.
Religion contrasts with Science on this front.  There is no “African” chemistry, no “Chinese” physics, no “French” biology.  There is just chemistry, physics, and biology, and scientists from countries and cultures around the world agree on the basic concepts and principles and laws of chemistry and physics and biology.  Science and scientific beliefs transcend particular languages and cultures and nations.  There is widespread cross-cultural agreement on the basics of chemistry, physics, and biology.  There is no such widespread cross-cultural agreement on the basic issues of religion.  That is one reason why we place great confidence in science and scientific inquiry.
The presence of disagreements and contradictions between dreams is one important reason why we believe that our dreams are SUBJECTIVE and do not reflect reality.  My dreams do not correspond to your dreams, and my dreams tonight do not correspond to my dreams last night.  I might dream tonight that President Trump is assassinated in his first term by a disgruntled Kentucky coal miner.  You, however, might dream that President Trump is NOT assassinated but that he goes on to be elected for a second term. And I might have dreamed last night about President Trump resigning from the office of president to avoid impeachment, and thus that he was NOT assassinated in his first term.   Such contradictions and disagreements between dreams are common, and are one of the reasons why we believe dreams to be SUBJECTIVE, to be just in our minds, not representations of actual events.
Disagreements between religions do not prove that all religions are false or fundamentally mistaken or delusional, but they do cast doubt on religious beliefs and on the reliability of the sources of religious beliefs (e.g. religious experiences and religious authorities).  Because there is a great deal of disagreement across cultures concerning religious issues, we ought to be skeptical about religious claims and beliefs.
==================
* Statistics on number of adherents to these religions are from this source:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Major_religious_groups

bookmark_borderSkepticism about Religion – Part 4: Religion and Virtue

=========================
II. There are good reasons to be SKEPTICAL about religion and religious beliefs.

A. Religion is NOT the key to Happiness and Virtue.

1. Religion is NOT the key to Happiness.

2. Religion is NOT the key to Virtue.

========================

An Obvious Failure of Religion to Promote Virtue

Many Catholic priests have sexually abused many children for many decades (and probably for many centuries):

======================

Priest sex abuse: New report lists 212 Catholic priests in Oakland, San Jose, San Francisco dioceses accused of child sex abuse

October 23, 2018
“The data reveals the scandalous scale of hundreds of priests assaulting thousands of minors from early history to the present in these Dioceses,” the report concludes. “The data collected suggests the patterns and practices of Church officials, including the orchestration of an institutional cover-up of an enormous magnitude.

Aug. 14, 2018

Bishops and other leaders of the Roman Catholic Church in Pennsylvania covered up child sexual abuse by more than 300 priests over a period of 70 years, persuading victims not to report the abuse and law enforcement not to investigate it, according to a searing report issued by a grand jury on Tuesday.

The report, which covered six of the state’s eight Catholic dioceses and found more than 1,000 identifiable victims, is the broadest examination yet by a government agency in the United States of child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. The report said there are likely thousands more victims whose records were lost or who were too afraid to come forward.

The Most Religious States Tend to Have the Most Crime

If religion was the key to virtue, then we would expect that the most religious states in the USA would have the least amount of crime, the lowest crime rates.  But in fact, the most religious states tend to have the highest crime rates:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Of the ten most religious states, eight states rank in the bottom twenty for worst crime rates. Only one of the ten most religious states ranked in the top twenty for lowest crime rates.
The ranking here is based on FBI statistics for violent crimes and for property crimes in 2014 (the same year as the ranking of religiosity of states by Pew Research).  Each state was ranked in relation to violent crimes, and in relation to property crimes, and then those two rankings were averaged together for each state.  This gives equal weight to ranking for violent crimes and to ranking for property crimes.
Violent crimes are much less common that property crimes, but violent crimes are also much more serious in nature (murder, rape, assault), so it seems reasonable to give ranking for violent crime equal weight with ranking for property crimes, even though violent crimes are much less common.

The Least Religious States Tend to Have the Least Crime

If religion was the key to virtue, then we would expect that the least religious states in the USA to have the most crime, the highest crime rates.  But in fact, the least religious states tend to have the lowest crime rates:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Of the ten least religious states, only two rank in the bottom twenty for worst crime rates. Seven out of the ten least religious states ranked in the top twenty for lowest crime rates.
Given that most of the ten most religious states have high crime rates relative to other states, and given that most of the ten least religious states have low crime rates relative to other states, it is very doubtful that religion is the key to virtue.
 

The Most Religious Countries in the World Tend to Have High Murder Rates AND  The Least Religious Countries in the World Tend to Have Low Murder Rates

Phil Zuckerman makes this point in his article “Atheism, Secularity, and Well-Being: How the Findings of Social Science Counter Negative Stereotypes and Assumptions”:
If religion, prayer, or God-belief hindered criminal behavior, and secularity or atheism fostered lawlessness, we would expect to find the most religious nations having the lowest murder rates and the least religious nations having the highest. But we find just the opposite. Murder rates are actually lower in more secular nations and higher in more religious nations where belief in God is deep and widespread (Jensen 2006; Paul 2005; Fajnzylber
et al. 2002; Fox and Levin 2000).
Zuckerman provides more details in an LA Times editorial (“Think religion makes society less violent? Think again.”):
If it were true that when belief in God weakens, societal well-being diminishes, then we should see abundant evidence for this. But we don’t. In fact, we find just the opposite: Those societies today that are the most religious — where faith in God is strong and religious participation is high — tend to have the highest violent crime rates, while those societies in which faith and church attendance are the weakest — the most secular societies — tend to have the lowest.
[…]
Take homicide. According to the United Nations’ 2011 Global Study on Homicide, of the 10 nations with the highest homicide rates, all are very religious, and many — such as Colombia, Mexico, El Salvador and Brazil — are among the most theistic nations in the world. Of the nations with the lowest homicide rates, nearly all are very secular, with seven ranking among the least theistic nations, such as Sweden, Japan, Norway and the Netherlands.
This is further evidence against the belief that religion is the key to virtue.

Empirical Studies of the Relationship Between Religion and Crime

If religion was the KEY to VIRTUE, then empirical studies of the relationship between religion and crime should consistently show that there is a STRONG negative correlation between religiousness and participation in crime.  Some empirical studies have produced data that indicates there is no significant negative correlation between religiousness and crime.  Other studies, however, have produced data that indicates a significant negative correlation between religiousness and crime.
But, as with empirical studies on religion and happiness, there are some significant caveats and qualifications that should be noted:

  • Significant negative correlations tend to be concerned with VICTIMLESS CRIMES (like smoking pot, or underage drinking), as opposed to crimes against people (murder, rape, assault, robbery, car theft, burglary).
  •  Although reviews of multiple empirical studies tend to show that there is a negative correlation between religion and crime, the size of the effect is usually very modest.
  • There are several OTHER factors besides religion that have as much or more effect on the likelihood that a person will commit a crime against another person.

Victimless crimes are of little significance in relation to the issue of MORAL VIRTUE, because moral virtue is focused primarily on how we treat other people.  So, when empirical studies lump victimless crime in with crimes against people, the alleged negative correlation between religion and crime becomes irrelevant or insignificant in relation to the issue of MORAL VIRTUE.
Because reviews of multiple empirical studies show only that religion has a modest effect size on criminality, that is strong evidence that religion is NOT the key to virtue.  In order for something to be the key to virtue, it must have a very powerful effect on the degree of virtue that a person possesses.  A modest reduction in how likely one is to commit crimes against other people is clearly NOT sufficient to count as a very powerful effect on the degree of virtue that a person possesses.  So, if the reviews of multiple empirical studies of the relationship of religion to crime are correct, then it follows that it is NOT the case that “Religion is the key to virtue.”
There are a number of other factors besides religion that have significant impact on the likelihood that a person will commit a crime against another person.  Because several other factors have significant influence on criminality, this makes it improbable that “Religion is the key to virtue”.
My claim is NOT that religion makes people bad or immoral.  My claim is that the idea that “Religion is the key to virtue” is contrary to known facts and evidence about human behavior.
An example of a review of empirical studies is the article “If You Love Me, Keep My Commandments“, by COLIN J. BAIER and BRADLEY R. E. WRIGHT, published in Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency in 2001.  Baier and Wright examined and analyzed several empirical studies on religion and crime, and drew this conclusion:

 
However, many of those 60 studies include data that indicates a negative correlation between religion and NONVICTIM crimes.  This data is irrelevant to the issue of MORAL VIRTUE, but it bumps up the size of the effect of religion on criminality:

Yet even with this irrelevant data bumping up the size of the effect, religion still has only a modest impact: r = -.12 .  I don’t know exactly how much lower this effect size would be without the irrelevant data (on nonvictim crimes), but it is likely that the impact would be r > or = -.10.  An effect size of r = -.10 is considered to be “small” (from the “Effect Size” article in Wikipedia):
Pearson’s correlation, often denoted r and introduced by Karl Pearson, is widely used as an effect size when paired quantitative data are available; for instance if one were studying the relationship between birth weight and longevity. The correlation coefficient can also be used when the data are binary. Pearson’s r can vary in magnitude from −1 to 1, with −1 indicating a perfect negative linear relation, 1 indicating a perfect positive linear relation, and 0 indicating no linear relation between two variables. Cohen gives the following guidelines for the social sciences:

 
 
 
 
There are several other factors besides religion that have that size of effect (or greater) on criminality.  Given that there are several other factors besides religion that have that size (or greater) effect on criminality, this is strong evidence against the view that “Religion is the key to virtue”.
===========================
UPDATE on 11/3/18
===========================
The meta-analysis article by Baier and Wright  (2001) concluded that the effect size of religion on crime was “about r = – .12”.  I pointed out that this effect size is based on studies that used data on VICTIMLESS crimes, which are irrelevant to the question of the relationship of religion to moral virtue.   Furthermore, Baier and Wright determined that religion has a greater effect on VICTIMLESS crime as compared to crimes against people.  I guessed that if we looked only at the data related to crimes against people, the effect size of religion on crime would be about r = – .10.   My guess was very close to the mark.
I have done some calculations and have determined that if we look at only crimes against people, the effect size of religion is between r = – .09 and r = – .11.
Out of the 60 studies reviewed by Baier and Wright, 23 studies are concerned only with crimes against people.  If we calculate the MEAN of the effect sizes reported in those 23 studies, we get an average effect size of  r = -.11 .
However, simply averaging the effect sizes seems unreasonable, because some of these studies have large sample sizes, and some have small sample sizes.  The arithmetic MEAN treats all 23 studies equally, both the study with a sample size of 84 and the study with a sample size of 30,150.   But a few data points that are errors or anomalies can significantly skew the results in a study that has a small sample size but not a study with a large sample size.  So, we ought to give greater weight to the effect sizes of studies with large sample sizes versus studies with small sample sizes.
I have defined SMALL, MEDIUM, and LARGE sample sizes to use in comparing the 23 studies of religion and crimes against people, and then used those categories to calculate a weighted average effect size.  The result was r = – .09.
The mean effect size of the 23 relevant studies is r = – .11,  and the weighted average effect size is r = – .09.  So, my guess at the effect size was right inbetween the mean and the weighted average:  r = – .10 .  That means that based on the 23 relevant studies examined in the meta-analysis by Baier and Wright, the effect size just barely meets the threshold for a “small” effect size, or in the case of the weighted average effect size fails to meet the threshold for a “small” effect size.
Here are the details and numbers on the 23 relevant studies (data on sample size and reported effect size is from Table 1 in the Baier and Wright article):

 

bookmark_borderSkepticism about Religion – Part 3: More Caveats and Qualifications

=========================
II. There are good reasons to be SKEPTICAL about religion and religious beliefs.

A. Religion is NOT the key to Happiness and Virtue.

1. Religion is NOT the key to Happiness.

2. Religion is NOT the key to Virtue.

========================

MORE CAVEATS & QUALIFICATIONS ABOUT

THE CORRELATION BETWEEN RELIGION & HAPPINESS

5. When a study does find a positive correlation between religion and happiness, it is usually a weak correlation.

Various reviews of empirical studies on the relationship between religion and happiness have concluded that the correlation of religion to happiness is a WEAK one:
 … In 1985, researchers analyzed 56 different effects to determine whether being religious is associated with greater well-being in adults. They found that endorsing a religion, led to a correlation of .16 with well-being. If you focused on religious activity, or how often someone prayed, attended a church/synagogue/mosque, or read scriptures, the correlation with happiness was nearly identical at .18. If you focused on the feeling of satisfaction derived from being religious or connected with a higher power, the correlation with happiness was only .13.
[…]
People who are physically attractive are intelligent—at a correlation of .14 (the same magnitude as the link between religion and happiness).
[…]
… the correlation between being religious and being happy is unimpressive. And in case you think I am cherry picking the data, a 2003 meta-analysis of 34 studies of religiosity and well-being, led to the same conclusion. Overall, the correlation between being a religious person and … high life satisfaction was only .12, and feeling that one reached self-actualization was only .24.  And using a 2011 study of 353,845 individuals from 50 states and the District of Columbia conducted by The Gallup Organization, researchers found that believing that religion was an important part of your life correlated a mere .06 with life satisfaction, … and .06 with positive feelings in daily life.  Again, unimpressive. 
(“Does Being Religious Make us Happy?” by Todd B. Kashdan Ph.D., Psychology Today. Emphasis added.)
The correlation between religion and happiness thus appears to be a weak correlation, measuring somewhere between .06 and .18.  As pointed out above that is about the same as the correlation between being physically attractive and being intelligent (correlation = .14).  Obviously, there is only a weak correlation between being physically attractive and being intelligent. There are plenty of physically attractive people who are not very intelligent, and there are plenty of people who are not physically attractive who are very intelligent.
Correlations that are less than .2 are generally considered to be weak, at least in relation to subjective phenomena like happiness and religiosity:
There is no rule for determining what size of correlation is considered strong, moderate or weak. The interpretation of the coefficient depends, in part, on the topic of study. When we are studying things that are difficult to measure, such as the contents of someone’s mental life, we should expect the correlation coefficients to be lower.
In these kinds of studies, we rarely see correlations above 0.6. For this kind of data, we generally consider correlations above 0.4 to be relatively strong; correlations between 0.2 and 0.4 are moderate, and those below 0.2 are considered weak.  (“An Introduction to Data Analysis & Presentation” by Prof. Timothy Shortell, Sociology, Brooklyn College. Emphasis added.)
A recent study of religion and happiness in Britain provides support for the view that “Religion Can Make You Happier”, as claimed in the title of a news article from The Telegraph:
According to figures published as part of the Office for National Statistics (ONS) “well-being” research programme people, people who say they have no religious affiliation report lower levels of happiness, life satisfaction and self-worth than those who do.
(“Religion Can Make You Happier, Official Figures Suggest” By John Bingham, Religious Affairs Editor, The Telegraph)
However, the same article points out that an expert on the sociology of religion concluded that the role of religion in relation to happiness is a minor one, based on the recent study in Britain:
Prof Linda Woodhead, of Lancaster University, one of the UK’s leading experts on sociology of religion, said the figures suggest that if faith is a factor in happiness it is only a small factor.
“You might say if it is the ‘opium of the people’ they need to up the dose,” she said.
(“Religion Can Make You Happier, Official Figures Suggest Emphasis added.)
The study does show that average happiness scores are lower for non-religious people than for various groups of religious people.  Here is a graph that summarizes the differences in average happiness scores:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
If we take a closer look at the data from the recent British study, it becomes clear that religion, at best, plays only a minor role in relation to happiness. Happiness is rated on a scale from 0 to 10, so a more accurate graph, one that provides a view of the full range of possible happiness scores, looks like this:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Clearly, the differences in average happiness scores is SMALL.  No group has an average happiness score below 7.2 and no group has an average happiness score above 7.6.  All of the group average scores fell into that small range of four tenths of one point on a ten-point scale.
If non-religious people had an average happiness score of 4.7 and Christians had an average happiness score of 8.2. then that would be impressive, but the difference between average non-religious happiness scores and average Christian happiness scores is NOT a few points, but is only about two-tenths of a point.
This is about the same as the difference between average Jewish happiness and average Hindu happiness.  So, if two-tenths of a point is of great significance (it is not), then Muslims and Jews should seriously consider leaving their faith and becoming Hindus in order to gain greater happiness.  I don’t think any reasonable Muslim or Jew would give serious consideration to converting to Hinduism just because Hindus have an average happiness score that is two-tenths of a point higher than their religious group.  No reasonable Christian would seriously consider converting to Hinduism on the grounds that Hindus have an average happiness score that is one-tenth of a point higher than Christians.
Such small differences in average happiness scores are of little significance.  What is more significant is that all groups have such similar average happiness scores, that the range of differences in average happiness scores is less than half of one point.  This data actually shows that religion is relatively insignificant in relationship to happiness.  This data clearly shows us that religion is NOT the key to happiness; one’s religion or lack of religion is of little significance in terms of the level of happiness one will obtain.

6. There are a number of other factors that have a significantly stronger positive correlation with happiness.

,  a Research Associate in the Social Policy and Social Work Department at the University of York, points out that there are many different factors that influence how happy a person is likely to be:
Previous research suggests the “happy person” is young, healthy, well-educated, well-paid, optimistic and extroverted. The same research found the happiest people tend to be religious, married, with high self-esteem and job morale and modest aspirations. It seems your gender and level of intelligence don’t necessarily come into it.
[…]
Our study looks at a large number of different religious groups across 100 countries – from 1981 to 2014 – using data from the World Value Survey.
[…]
In our research, we found that many factors were positively associated with happiness and life satisfaction. These included being Protestant, female, married and younger (16 to 24 years old). The household’s financial situation also came into it, as did a person’s state of health and freedom of choice.
We discovered that national pride and trust were important in terms of happiness rankings, as was having friends, family and leisure time. Attending weekly religious practice was also discovered to be an important factor. On the other hand, being unemployed and on a low income was negatively associated with happiness and life satisfaction.
A closer look at the magnitude of the association between these factors and happiness and life satisfaction revealed that health, financial stability and freedom of choice, or control over one’s life were the most important factors.
(“Are religious people happier than non-religious people?The Conversation. Emphasis added.)
After looking at a variety of different factors, this broad international study concluded that the most important factors related to happiness are:

  • health
  • financial stability
  • freedom of choice or control over one’s life

The journal article presenting this study states that most of the factors that were examined had a small effect size on happiness and life satisfaction:
The most significant factors driving happiness and life satisfaction include state of health, household’s financial satisfaction, income ranking position, unemployment, freedom of choice, national pride, trust, importance of friends, family, leisure, being a female and weekly religious attendance (see Table 2). Nevertheless, when the Cohen’s rules of thumb (Cohen 1992; Wright 1992) was applied, most factors seem to have ‘‘small’’ effect size (r ≤ 0.10). Thus, the most significant factors driving happiness and life satisfaction were state of health, household’s financial satisfaction and freedom of choice.
(“Are Happiness and Life Satisfaction Different Across Religious groups? Exploring Determinants of Happiness and Life Satisfaction.” / Ngamaba, Kayonda Hubert; Soni, Debbie. In: Journal of Religion and Health, 07.08.2017, p. 1-22. Emphasis added.)
Only THREE of the many different potential factors related to happiness that were examined in this study had a positive correlation that was greater than .10.  NONE of the factors relating to religious belief or religious activity had a positive correlation greater than .10.
There were several other factors besides religion that also had a small positive correlation with happiness (e.g. income ranking position, national pride, trust, importance of friends, family, leisure, being a female).  Furthermore, the religious factor that did show a small correlation with happiness was weekly religious attendance, and we have previously noted that regular attendance at religious services effects happiness primarily because of the social aspect of religion: involvement in religious services provides opportunities for making and maintaining friendships with other people who attend the same religious services:
“To me, the evidence substantiates that it is not really going to church and listening to sermons that makes people happier,” Lim [sociologist Chaeyoon Lim of the University of Wisconsin–Madison] told TIME, “but making church-based friends and building intimate social networks there.” 
(“Does Spirituality Make You Happy?” Time.com)
Clearly, it is NOT the case that “Religion is the key to happiness”, based on the results of this broad study that examined data from 100 different countries.

7. The correlation between religion and happiness appears to be bi-modal: religious people tend towards both greater happiness and also greater unhappiness compared to non-religious people.

We have seen so far that religion fails to correlate with happiness in several countries, that when religion does correlate with happiness the degree of correlation is usually small, that there are non-religious factors that are more important in relation to happiness, and that one of the most significant religious factors (i.e. regular attendance at religious services) effects happiness primarily because of the social aspect of religion.
One final issue with religion in terms of its correlation with happiness is that it also correlates with unhappiness, at least according to one recent study of data from 79 different countries:
This paper investigates the relationship between religiosity and life satisfaction in 79 nations using World Values Survey data. Extant literature analyzes religiosity and life satisfaction at person level. But religiosity is an attribute of both, persons and societies. To solve methodological problems evident in previous work a random coefficient multilevel model is employed to account for the fact that individuals are nested within countries. This study shows that the relationship between religiosity and life satisfaction is bimodal. Religious people tend to be either very satisfied or dissatisfied with life. 
(“Religiosity and life satisfaction across nations” by  ,  Mental Health, Religion & Culture , Volume 13, 2010 – Issue 2. Quote from Abstract. Emphasis added.)

So, the claim that “Religion is the key to happiness” is mistaken not only because religion has only a weak correlation with happiness, but because it also correlates with unhappiness!  In other words, even if becoming religious brings with it a small increase in the likelihood of becoming happier, it also appears to bring with it a small increase in the likelihood of becoming unhappier.  The small increase in the likelihood of becoming unhappier tends to counterbalance the advantage of the small increase in the likelihood of becoming happier.  Not only is the advantage of religion in relation to happiness relatively insignificant, but it also comes with a small disadvantage in relation to happiness.

bookmark_borderSkepticism about Religion – Part 2: Caveats and Qualifications

DOES RELIGION HAVE A POSITIVE CORRELATION WITH HAPPINESS?

There are many empirical studies that appear to show that religion has a positive correlation with happiness.  However, there are a number of important caveats and qualifications that need to be taken into consideration here:

  1. Viewed in geographic terms, religion has a NEGATIVE correlation with happiness.
  2. Whether religion correlates with happiness depends on how one measures happiness.
  3. Whether religion correlates with happiness depends on how one measures religion/religiousness.
  4. In several countries religion does NOT have a positive correlation with happiness.
  5. When a study does find a positive correlation between religion and happiness, it is usually a weak correlation.
  6. There are a number of other factors that have a significantly stronger positive correlation with happiness.
  7. The correlation between religion and happiness appears to be bi-modal: religious people tend towards both greater happiness and also greater unhappiness compared to non-religious people.

1. Viewed in geographic terms, religion has a NEGATIVE correlation with happiness.

Let’s compare the top ten MOST religious states in the USA with the ten LEAST religious states in terms of happiness.
If religion is the key to happiness, then we would expect the states with the MOST religious populations to have the happiest populations as well, and we would expect the states with the LEAST religious populations to have the least happiest populations.  A perfect positive correlation between religion and happiness would be if the number one most religious state also had the number one spot in happiness, and if the second most religious state was number two in terms of happiness, and so on.  A perfect correlation would also mean that the LEAST religious state in the country would have the least happiest population, and the second LEAST religious state would have the second least happiest population, and so on.
There is NOT a perfect positive correlation between religion and happiness.  In fact, the most religious states tend to be states with lower than average happiness, and the least religious states tend to be states with above average happiness.  In terms of states, religion has a NEGATIVE correlation with happiness.
Of the top ten most religious states in the USA (based on Pew Research Center data from 2014), seven out of ten are in the bottom twenty states for happiness(based on Gallup data from 2014), and only one out of ten is in the top twenty for happiness:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Note that West Virginia is one of the top ten most religious states, and it also has the LEAST happy population in the USA (it ranks dead last).
On the other hand, of the ten least religious states in the USA, six out of ten are among the top twenty states in terms of happiness, and only one out of ten are in the bottom twenty states for happiness:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Note that two of the ten least religious states (Alaska and Hawaii) are the two states with the happiest populations in the USA (ranking number 1 and number 2, respectively).
This same negative correlation also appears to hold between different countries.  Many of the countries with the happiest populations are very secular countries that are among the LEAST religious countries in the world.  And many of the most religious countries have populations that are among the LEAST happiest in the world:
Religiosity levels are the lowest (generally less than 30 percent of the population) in prosperous, socialist democracies such as Denmark, Norway, Sweden and the Netherlands. Yet, according to the annual UN-commissioned World Happiness Reports, these nations are also consistently among the happiest in the world. What’s more, in places like Senegal and Bangladesh — countries with the most self-reported religious people (around 98 percent) but where daily survival is a struggle — life-satisfaction scores are near the bottom of the scale.  (Samantha Rideout,  “Does religion really make you happier?” from UCOBSERVER.org)
Correlation does not show causation, so this data does not prove that religion causes unhappiness or a reduction in happiness.  I suspect that bad circumstances cause unhappiness, and that unhappiness tends to foster religion. Poverty, unemployment, crime, poor medical care, disease, natural disasters, and corrupt or ineffective governments cause fear, anxiety, and unhappiness, and (I suspect) that the suffering and unhappiness caused by such conditions helps to promote religion:
In a 2011 paper that analyzed self-reports from hundreds of thousands of people worldwide, researchers found that the connection between religious faith and happiness was strongest among people living in difficult conditions—fear, poverty, hunger.
Think of it as scientific proof of the old saying that there are no atheists in the foxhole. When life is hard, the communal support of a religious community—and, presumably, the hope for something better to come in an entirely different world—is especially valuable, maybe even impossible to give up. That may be one reason religious community was so important to slave populations throughout history, from the ancient Israelites under the pharaoh’s boot in Egypt to African Americans trapped in the antebellum South. It may also be why even now in the U.S., states with lower life expectancies and higher poverty rates have the largest proportion of religious people. A rich man may find it harder to get into heaven than a camel does passing through the eye of a needle, but he may not think he needs to count on heaven in the first place. 
You don’t need to be a Marxist to believe that materialism matters to happiness and that people who live in a safe and wealthy country are on the whole going to be happier than those who do not. (If religion provides a kind of existential security in poor countries, the welfare state may do the same in rich ones.) … (Bryan Walsh, “Does Spirituality Make You Happy?” in the Time Guide to Happiness)
On the other hand, the negative correlation between religion and happiness that we find in geographically organized data COULD be because religion plays a significant causal role in producing conditions that lead to unhappiness or below-average happiness:
As always when it comes to correlation, it’s also possible that some of the causality goes in the opposite direction: “You could maybe argue that the heavily religious countries are less likely to produce the progressive social policies that foster widespread happiness in the long run,” suggests Caulfield. [Timothy Caulfield, “a Canada Research Chair in Health Law and Policy and a professor at the University of Alberta”].  (Samantha Rideout,  “Does religion really make you happier?” from UCOBSERVER.org)
When we divide the world up by states or nations, the LEAST religious states or nations tend to have the happiest populations, and the MOST religious states or nations tend to have less happier populations.  This geographic organization of data on religion and happiness indicates that religion is NOT the key to happiness, and it also casts doubt on the claim that religious people tend to be happier than non-religious people.
 

2. Whether religion correlates with happiness depends on how one measures happiness.

Some studies find a positive correlation between religion and happiness, while other studies FAIL to find such a correlation.  One reason for such conflicting results is that “happiness” is a complex abstract concept, and there are different ways of understanding and of measuring happiness:
… The majority of studies report a positive association between measures of religion and happiness; however, contradictory findings are common. This is exemplified in the literature that has systematically employed the Francis Scale of Attitude toward Christianity alongside two different measures of happiness among a variety of samples.  Two opposing conclusions have found consistent support. Research with the Oxford Happiness Inventory has consistently found religiosity to be associated with happiness, while research employing the Depression–Happiness Scale has consistently found no association.  (“Religion and happiness: Consensus, contradictions, comments and concerns” by Christopher Alan Lewis & Sharon Mary Cruise, Mental Health, Religion & Culture, Volume 9, 2006 – Issue 3,  Pages 213-225. Emphasis added. )
Religion correlates with happiness only when specific measures of happiness are used, particularly the Oxford Happiness Inventory.  When other measures of happiness are used, the positive correlation between religion and happiness may disappear.
 

3. Whether religion correlates with happiness depends on how one measures religion/religiousness.

There are different ways of understanding and measuring religion and religiousness.  Sometimes surveys ask about religious beliefs (“Do you believe that God exists?”), and sometimes they ask about religious identification:
Most U.S. adults identify with a particular religious denomination or group. They describe themselves as Catholic, Baptist, Methodist, Jewish, Mormon or Muslim– to name just a few of the hundreds of identities or affiliations that people give in surveys.  (“The Religious Typology“Pew Research Center)
Surveys also ask people about their religious practices, such as how often they pray, how often they read or study scripture, how often they attend religious services, and surveys ask people about how they feel about religion (“How important is religion in your daily life?”), and about their religious experiences (“Do you feel close to God when you pray?”).
So, religion and religiousness can be evaluated on the basis of different sorts of considerations: religious identification, religious beliefs, religious activities, religious experiences, and attitudes about religion, to name some commonly used considerations.  Whether a study shows a positive correlation between religion/religiousness and happiness depends on how religion/religiousness is measured or evaluated.
Regular attendance at religious services tends to have a positive correlation with happiness, but religious beliefs often FAIL to have a positive correlation with happiness.  For example, Chaeyoon Lim, a sociologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and his colleague, Harvard researcher Robert Putnam, published a study about religion and happiness in American Sociological Review (December 7, 2010) that found that attendance at religious services had a significant correlation with happiness, but that other aspects of religiousness did NOT have such a correlation:
The surveys showed that across all creeds, religious people were more satisfied than non-religious people. According to the data, about 28 percent of people who attended a religious service weekly were “extremely satisfied” with their lives, compared with 19.6 percent of people who never attended services.
But the satisfaction couldn’t be attributed to factors like individual prayer, strength of belief, or subjective feelings of God’s love or presence. Instead, satisfaction was tied to the number of close friends people said they had in their religious congregation. People with more than 10 friends in their congregation were almost twice as satisfied with life as people with no friends in their congregation. (“Why Religion Makes People Happier” by Stephanie Pappas, Live Science. Emphasis added.)
The specific data concerning friendships in congregations points to a causal explanation:
“We show that [life satisfaction] is almost entirely about the social aspect of religion, rather than the theological or spiritual aspect of religion,” Lim told LiveScience. “We found that people are more satisfied with their lives when they go to church, because they build a social network within their congregation.” (“Why Religion Makes People Happier” by Stephanie Pappas, Live Science. Emphasis added.)
Having more close friends has an obvious relevance to happiness, so whenever “religiousness” is measured in terms of attendance at religious services (as opposed to religious beliefs or religious experiences) the correlation of religion with happiness could be explained in purely natural and ordinary terms, as the result of the social aspects of religious practices.

4. In several countries religion does NOT have a positive correlation with happiness.

In well-off countries and in secular countries religion does NOT have a significant positive correlation with happiness:
In well-off but secular countries such as France and the Netherlands, both the religious and the nonreligious report about the same level of happiness and social support. In fact, Gallup data shows that some of the happiest nations in the world—Nordic countries such as Denmark and Sweden, which perennially score high on well-being—are comparatively abundant in atheists. Being completely unreligious—and presumably not worrying much about any kind of afterlife—didn’t seem to stop them from enjoying this life. (Bryan Walsh, “Does Spirituality Make You Happy?” in the Time Guide to Happiness. Emphasis added.)
Religious people tend to feel better about themselves and their lives, but a new study finds that this benefit may only hold in places where everyone else is religious, too.
According to the new study of almost 200,000 people in 11 European countries, people who are religious have higher self-esteem and better psychological adjustment than the non-religious only in countries where belief in religion is common. In more secular societies, the religious and the non-religious are equally well-off
[…]
Using information from 187,957 daters, the researchers compared each individual’s spirituality and happiness against the backdrop of religiosity in each person’s country. (Data on countrywide religiosity came from eDarling and from the Gallup World Poll.) They found that religion did indeed contribute to happiness, but only in cultures where religion is celebrated.  ( “Why Religion Makes Only Some of Us HappyLive Science. Emphasis added. )
In countries that have good living conditions, non-religious people tend to be about as happy as religious people:
Nations and states with more difficult life conditions (e.g., widespread hunger and low life expectancy) were much more likely to be highly religious. In these nations, religiosity was associated with greater social support, respect, purpose or meaning, and all three types of SWB. In societies with more favorable circumstances, religiosity is less prevalent and religious and nonreligious individuals experience similar levels of SWB [Subjective Well Being, i.e. happiness]. There was also a person–culture fit effect such that religious people had higher SWB in religious nations but not in nonreligious nations. Thus, it appears that the benefits of religion for social relationships and SWB depend on the characteristics of the society.  (“The Religion Paradox: If religion makes people happy, why are so many dropping out?” authors: Diener, E., Tay, L., & Myers, D. G. (2011). Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 101(6), 1278-1290. Quotation is from an Abstract. Emphasis added)

… Ed Diener and his colleagues dissected a Gallup World Poll of 455,104 individuals from 154 nations. What they found was that in healthy nations (where basic needs are being met, when people feel safe walking home alone at night, etc.), there was no advantage to being religious — both religious and non-religious people reported feeling respected and socially supported, and as a result both reported being happy. But in unhealthy nations, religion offered an advantage, in terms of an uptick in well-being.  (“Does Being Religious Make us Happy?Psychology Today. Emphasis added.)
But if religion/religiousness does NOT have a positive correlation with happiness in several countries, then that is strong evidence that religion by itself is NOT the cause of the happiness that correlates with religion in other countries, otherwise the correlation would be consistent across all countries. In any case, religion by itself cannot be “the key to happiness” for people in general because there are many countries where being religious does NOT make a significant difference in how happy a person will be.
To be continued…

bookmark_borderA Case for Atheism: Skepticism about Religion – Part 1

II. There are good reasons to be SKEPTICAL about religion and religious beliefs.

A. Religion is NOT the key to Happiness and Virtue.

==============================
RELIGION AND HAPPINESS
Religion or religious belief is often thought to be the key to happiness, and religion is often promoted as being the key to happiness.
On the Christian website ExploreGod.com there is an article called “The Secret to Happiness” by Ben Sharp.  In it, Sharp promotes Christianity as the key to happiness:
It’s in Jesus Christ, God’s son, that real happiness—happiness that transcends this world’s definition—is found. Jesus’ perfect life, the death he suffered on the cross, and his resurrection provide true hope—both for this life and the one to come.
The forgiveness he provides for our failures and transgressions gives us a deep and lasting peace, contentment, and happiness.
Other religions are also sold on the basis of the religion being the key to happiness.  For example, on the Muslim website IqraSense.com we find the offer of a free book called The Key to Happiness This book promotes Islam as the key to happiness: 
Chapter Two: Benefits of the Islamic Way of Life
The Islamic way of life is indeed one that will achieve for its followers true happiness, on the condition that one follows its commandments and refrains from its prohibitions. …
Chapter Three: How to Attain True Happiness
True happiness is attained through a number of key fundamental beliefs… Whoever believes in Allah and in His Oneness will be guided to the path of happiness. His heart will be content, and he will live in a state of pure tranquility. …
Newspapers and magazines often put forward the idea that religion tends to make people happy:
Religion is a sure route to true happiness”  – editorial from The Washington Post
Religion can make you happier, official figures suggest” – article from The Telegraph
But there are good reasons to doubt that religion is actually the key to happiness.   If it is not actually the case that religion is the key to happiness, then a widely-held belief about religion is false, and a widely used reason in support of religion is mistaken.  It is possible, of course, that a religion is completely true (or mostly true) even if that religion is NOT the key to happiness.  So, showing that a religion is not the key to happiness does not disprove that religion, and showing that religion in general is not the key to happiness does not show that all religions are foolish or mistaken.
However, if religion is not the key to happiness, then that is a GOOD REASON to be skeptical about religion and religious belief, because (a) this shows that a widely-held belief about religion that is often asserted by religious leaders is mistaken, and (b) it seems likely that if a religion was completely true (or mostly true), it would be the key to happiness.  Although it is possible for a religion to be completely true (or mostly true) but fail to be the key to happiness, it seems more likely that a true (or mostly true) religion would be the key to happiness.  So, to the extent that a religion is NOT the key to happiness, we should at least be SKEPTICAL about the idea that the religion is completely or mostly true.  If religion in general is disconnected from happiness, that doesn’t prove that religion is foolish or a delusion, but it does give one a reason to doubt the truth and wisdom of religion.
Some Obvious Facts:

  • Some atheists are very happy people.
  • Some people who believe in God are very unhappy people.
  • Some people who are not religious are very happy people.
  • Some people who are religious are very unhappy people.

From these obvious facts, we may conclude that (a) being religious is NOT a requirement for being happy, and that (b) being religious does NOT guarantee that one will be happy.  In short, there is NOT a simple and direct relationship between religion and happiness.  However, even if religion is not required for happiness and does not guarantee happiness, it could still be the case that religion HELPS people to be happy, or to be more happy than they would otherwise be.
 
DOES RELIGION HAVE A POSITIVE CORRELATION WITH HAPPINESS?
There are many empirical studies that appear to show that religion has a positive correlation with happiness.  However, there are a number of important caveats and qualifications that need to be taken into consideration here:

  1. Viewed in geographic terms, religion has a NEGATIVE correlation with happiness.
  2. Whether religion correlates with happiness depends on how one measures happiness.
  3. Whether religion correlates with happiness depends on how one measures religion/religiousness.
  4. In several countries religion does NOT have a positive correlation with happiness.
  5. When a study does find a positive correlation between religion and happiness, it is usually a weak correlation.
  6. There are a number of other factors that have a significantly stronger positive correlation with happiness.
  7. The correlation between religion and happiness appears to be bi-modal: religious people tend towards both greater happiness and also greater unhappiness compared to non-religious people.

To be continued…