bookmark_borderEvaluation of the Christian Answer to Worldview Question #1

In this post I’m going to give you the Reader’s Digest version of my Podcast #6 (and the PowerPoint that it is based upon).
 
THE FOUR BASIC WORLDVIEW QUESTIONS
There are four basic worldview questions, four questions that can be used to analyze the content of a worldview:

Q1. What are the most important problems of human life? (Symptoms of Disease)

Q2. What is the root-cause problem of what are (allegedly) the most important problems of human life? (Diagnosis of the Disease)

Q3. What is the solution to what is (allegedly) the root-cause problem of what are (allegedly) the most important problems of human life? (Cure for the Disease)

Q4. How should we implement what is (allegedly) the solution to what is (allegedly) the root-cause problem of what are (allegedly) the most important problems of human life? (Treatment Plan for the Patients)

 
CHRISTIAN ANSWERS TO THE BASIC WORLDVIEW QUESTIONS 
The following is a short version of what I take to be the Christian answers to the four basic worldview questions:

Q1. What are the most important problems of human life? (Symptoms of Disease)
Alienation or separation from God, conflict and disharmony between people, mental and physical suffering, disease, death, and in the next life: divine eternal punishment.

Q2. What is the root-cause problem of what are (allegedly) the most important problems of human life? (Diagnosis of the Disease)
Sin (wrongdoing and disobedience to God and the human propensity towards wrongdoing) is the root cause problem of separation from God, conflict and disharmony between people, mental and physical suffering, disease, death, and ultimately results in eternal divine punishment.

Q3. What is the solution to what is (allegedly) the root-cause problem of what are (allegedly) the most important problems of human life? (Cure for the Disease)
Out of love and mercy for human beings, God sent his son Jesus to die on the cross and to rise from the dead in order provide salvation from sin, to atone for our sins, to reconcile us with God, and to provide eternal life to human beings.

Q4. How should we implement what is (allegedly) the solution to what is (allegedly) the root-cause problem of what are (allegedly) the most important problems of human life? (Treatment Plan for the Patients)
If one repents of one’s sins, and believes in Jesus as the divine savior of humankind who died for our sins and rose from the dead, then one’s sins will be forgiven by God, and the process of salvation from sin will begin, ultimately completing when Jesus raises the dead and gives eternal life in heaven to those who believed in him.

 
FURTHER ANALYSIS OF THE CHRISTIAN ANSWER TO WORLDVIEW QUESTION #1
The Christian answer to worldview question #1 can be analyzed into four categories: spiritual, physical, mental, and social (click on the image below for a clearer view of the chart):
 
EVALUATION OF THE CHRISTIAN ANSWER TO WORLDVIEW QUESTION #1
I have no significant objection to the problems identified by the Christian worldview in the categories of PHYSICAL, MENTAL, and SOCIAL.  Those problems identified by the Christian worldview are real and serious problems, and it seems to me that it is reasonable to consider those problems to constitute many of the most important problems that humans face.  So, the Christian answer to worldview question #1 is at least PARTLY correct.
My problem is with the alleged problems that fall under the category of SPIRITUAL:

  • Alienation or separation from God in this life
  • and in the next life: divine eternal punishment

These are actual problems ONLY IF God exists.  Since I do not believe that God exists, I do not believe that these are actual problems that humans face, and thus there is no need for a SOLUTION to these non-existent problems.
Furthermore, even if we assume, for the sake of argument, that God exists, these alleged problems would still NOT be among the most important problems that humans face.
Alienation or separation from God in this life might be a minor problem, but many atheists and non-religious people are happy and virtuous people, and many Christians and other religious people are unhappy and lacking in virtue.  So, Christianity and religion are NOT the keys to happiness and virtue.  At most, they provide some modest degree of help to some people to obtain happiness and virtue in this life.  Alienation from God is NOT a major problem in this life, even if God exists.
The other spiritual problem, namely the threat of divine eternal punishment in an afterlife, is clearly NOT a problem at all.  God is by definition a perfectly morally good person, but no person who is perfectly morally good would ever inflict eternal punishment on a human being.
Furthermore, a perfectly morally good person would never allow anyone else to inflict eternal punishment on a human being, if that perfectly morally good person had the power to prevent this from occurring.  God is by definition all-powerful, so if God exists, then there is no such thing as Hell, and there never will be such a thing as Hell.  The belief that God exists is logically incompatible with the belief that Someone will inflict eternal punishment and misery upon some human beings.  In other words, the belief that God exists is the strongest possible reason for rejecting the idea of there being a threat of eternal punishment in an afterlife.
Therefore, neither of the SPIRITUAL problems identified by the Christian worldview is among the most important problems that we humans face.  This part of the Christian answer to worldview question #1 is clearly WRONG.
 
CONCLUSION
The Christian answer to worldview question #1 is partly TRUE and partly FALSE.  The problems identified by Christianity that can be categorized as PHYSICAL, MENTAL, or SOCIAL are legitimate and important human problems that need to be solved.
However, the SPIRITUAL problems identified by Christianity are NOT among the most important human problems.  They are non-existent problems, because these are problems only if God exists, but God does not exist.  And even if we assume that God exists, one of the problems (alienation from God in this life) would be only a minor problem, and the other problem (eternal punishment) would NOT exist because it is logically incompatible with the claim that God exists.
Furthermore, each of the PHYSICAL, MENTAL, and SOCIAL problems identified by Christianity as being among the most important problems humans face, is an example of EVIL, and this raises the problem of evil, which represents a powerful objection to the belief that God exists.  Thus, this part of the Christian worldview, by acknowledging the existence of many serious problems/evils experienced by human beings, points to powerful evidence AGAINST the existence of God, and thus against the existence of the SPIRITUAL problems that Christianity identifies as being important human problems.
It should be noted that the problems that Christianity correctly identifies as being among the most important human problems (i.e. Physical problems, Mental problems, and Social problems), are obviously serious problems, so we don’t need a prophet or divine revelation (e.g. the Bible) in order to figure out that those are serious problems that need to be solved.  We don’t need Moses or Jesus to tell us that diseases and wars, for example, are bad problems that humans face.

bookmark_borderLeviticus and Homosexuality – Part 6: NOT a message from God

WHERE WE ARE
Should we view homosexual sex as morally wrong because it is (allegedly) condemned in the book of Leviticus?  In Part 1 of this series I outlined a dozen reasons to doubt this viewpoint.  Here is the first reason:

1. God does NOT exist, so no prophet and no book contains truth or wisdom from God. 

In Part 2 of this series I explained my reason for skepticism in general (i.e. CYNICISM), and I explained my reasons for skepticism about supernatural claims.  In this Part 3 of this series I explained my reasons for skepticism about religion.
In Part 4  and Part 5 of this series I presented my reasons for skepticism about the existence of God.
Here is my second reason for doubting the idea that we should view homosexual sex as morally wrong because it is (allegedly) condemned in the book of Leviticus:

2. Leviticus is NOT the inspired Word of God. (Leviticus is just another book written by ignorant and imperfect human beings).

Actually, most of my dozen reasons for doubt relate back to this one.  For example, my first reason was that God does not exist (or that we have good reasons to doubt that God exists).  If there is no God, then it follows logically that Leviticus is NOT the inspired Word of God.  If there is no God, then NOTHING is a message from God, because there is no God to send any message in the first place.
Since most of my dozen reasons provide support for this second reason,  I will not attempt to make a comprehensive case against the divine inspiration of the book of Leviticus in this current post.  My case against the inspiration of Leviticus will span several posts, as I continue to explain and defend reasons 3 through 8.  So, in this post I will briefly present a few reasons for doubting that the book of Leviticus was inspired by God.
LEVITICUS WAS NOT INSPIRED BY GOD IF MOSES WAS THE AUTHOR OF LEVITICUS
I don’t believe that Moses was the author of Leviticus, and neither do most Old Testament scholars.  However, conservative Catholics and conservative Evangelicals generally believe that Moses was the author of Leviticus.  So, this first argument is addressed to Christians who believe that Moses was the author of Leviticus:

1. Jehovah is NOT God.

2. Moses is a prophet of Jehovah.

3. Anyone who is a prophet of a someone other than God is a FALSE PROPHET.

THEREFORE:

4. Moses is a FALSE PROPHET.

5. Moses is the author of Leviticus.

6. No book authored by a FALSE PROPHET is the inspired Word of God.

THEREFORE:

7. Leviticus is NOT the inspired Word of God.

The only controversial premise here is premise (1), and I have already argued for this premise in Part 2 of this series:
https://secularfrontier.infidels.org/2020/08/18/leviticus-and-homosexuality-part-2-no-messages-from-god/
In short: Jehovah commanded the Israelites to MERCILESSLY SLAUGHTER every man, woman, teenager, child, and baby of the people who were already settled in the “promised land” (i.e. Palestine) in order to steal that land from those people.  Only a morally flawed person would give such an evil command, so Jehovah was a morally flawed person.  But God is a perfectly good person, so Jehovah cannot be God.  Premise (1) is clearly true.  So, if Moses was in fact the author of Leviticus, as stated in premise (5), then we must conclude that Leviticus was NOT inspired by God.
 
LEVITICUS WAS NOT INSPIRED BY GOD BASED ON THE CONTENT OF LEVITICUS
Here is a high-level outline of the book of Leviticus:

I. Laws on sacrifice (1:1–7:38)
II. Institution of the priesthood (8:1–10:20)
III. Uncleanliness and its treatment (11:1–15:33)
IV. Day of Atonement: purification of the tabernacle from the effects of uncleanliness and sin (ch. 16)
V. Prescriptions for practical holiness (the Holiness Code, chs. 17–26)
VI. Redemption of votive gifts (ch. 27)

(from the article “Book of Leviticus” in Wikipedia)
So, clearly four big ideas in Leviticus are:

  • Sacrifices
  • Priesthood
  • Uncleanliness
  • Holiness

SACRIFICES AND PRIESTHOOD (Leviticus Chapters 1-10)
If there is no good reason for animal sacrifices, then there is also no good reason for the priesthood that is established in the book of Leviticus, because the primary job of the priests was to sacrifice animals.  So, my main focus here will be to argue that there was no good reason for the practice of animal sacrifices.
However, I will say a couple of things about the idea of a priesthood.  I was a conservative Evangelical Christian in my younger years, and I was a big fan of the Protestant Reformation, particularly the key theological principles of sola gratia (salvation is by God’s grace alone), sola fide (justification/forgiveness is by faith alone), and sola scriptura (the only authority in matters of faith and religion is the Bible).  I was also a fan of the protestant belief in “the priesthood of all believers”.  So, the idea of priests and bishops is one that STINKS for me, or at least it did when I was an Evangelical Christian.

Sacrifice of Isaac, by Caravaggio, c. 1603

Animal sacrifices are part of nearly every ancient religion.  Abraham practiced animal sacrifice long before Moses was born.  Lots of people from various tribes and cultures practiced animal sacrifice long before Moses was born.  Abraham didn’t need any priests to perform his animal sacrifices.  So, there is no reason why the ancient Israelites needed priests to perform animal sacrifices for them.  They could have done this for themselves, if there was some good reason for making animal sacrifices.
Having a priesthood basically removes thousands of able-bodied men from doing practical work that would benefit their people, like growing and harvesting crops, or raising and butchering animals, or baking bread, or making beer, or making useful items, like metal implements or clay pots.  A priesthood is a waste of potential workers who could perform useful practical tasks and help to complete important practical projects for their people.
The practice of having a priesthood teaches BAD THEOLOGY, because this practice implies that humans need to have an intermediary between themselves and God.  But according to Jesus and Christian theology, God is a loving “Father” to all human beings, and thus we ought to pray “Our Father who is in heaven…”.  Having a priesthood teaches people that God is a distant and frightening being whom ordinary humans ought not try to approach.  This is exactly the OPPOSITE of what Jesus taught.  So, the idea of a priesthood is BAD THEOLOGY from a Christian point of view.
The French atheist Denis Diderot (1713–1784) is often mistakenly* quoted as saying this about priesthood: 

Men will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest.

The basic idea is probably that religious institutions tend to provide support to powerful rulers and governments, whether those rulers or governments are good and just or are evil and unjust.
But there is also the suspicion that religions, especially religious institutions that include positions of religious authority, often abuse that authority, as for example, the world-wide sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests for the past century (and probably for most of the previous centuries) which was preserved by Catholic bishops who did everything they could to hide this fact from the public and to protect pedophile priests from being brought to justice, but who almost never lifted a finger to protect the children of Catholic believers from these pedophile priests.
Power corrupts, and hierarchies of power (like priests and bishops and popes) are clearly susceptible to unbelievable levels of corruption.  So, this is another reason for NOT establishing and maintaining a priesthood.  Give these men honest work on farms, and in manufacturing, and in business, and have them make actual practical contributions to their societies, instead of sucking off of hard-working fellow believers, or worse, assisting in the abuse and oppression of their fellow believers, as happened so often in the history of the Catholic Church, for example.
The priesthood established in Leviticus primarily performed tasks related to the practice of animal sacrifices.  So, if the practice of animal sacrifices was unnecessary or harmful, then there would be no good reason to establish a priesthood of the sort that Leviticus describes.
 
THE MORAL IMPERATIVE AGAINST ANIMAL SACRIFICES
The practice of animal sacrifices as described in Leviticus involves the deaths and killings of thousands of animals, and over many centuries, millions of animals.  Even if the lives of animals are not given the same value as the lives of humans, it is clearly wrong to kill an animal without having a good reason to do so, especially higher animals like birds and mammals.  The killing of thousands of animals every year is most definitely morally wrong if those animals are birds and mammals, and if there is no good reason for doing this killing.  This might not be equivalent to killing thousands of human beings, but the killing of such animals is still of moral significance and would be wrong apart from having a good reason for doing that much killing.
So, it is morally wrong to institute the practice of animal sacrifices if this will involve the killing of thousands of birds and mammals each year, UNLESS there is a good reason for having and maintaining the practice of animal sacrifices. If there is no good reason for the practice of animal sacrifices, then a perfectly good being would NOT issue commands to institute the practice of animal sacrifices when this would involve the killing of thousands of birds and mammals each year.  I will argue that there is no such good reason, and thus that a perfectly good being would NOT issue commands to institute the practice of animal sacrifice as described in Leviticus, and thus that the book of Leviticus is NOT a message from God.
 
ANIMAL SACRIFICES NOT NECESSARY FOR MAINTENANCE OF A RELIGION
1. The sacrifice of animals is NOT necessary for the maintenance of a religion.  Judaism began after animal sacrifices in the temple in Jerusalem ended, and Judaism has persisted for 2,000 years without the need of animal sacrifices, and Christianity has also persisted for 2,000 years without the need of animal sacrifices.
 
THE PRACTICE OF ANIMAL SACRIFICES TEACHES BAD THEOLOGY
2. If Jesus died for the sins of all humankind, including the sins of the ancient Israelites, then the practice of sacrificing of animals teaches BAD THEOLOGY.  This practice implies that the deaths of animals were required in order for God to forgive the sins of the ancient Israelites, which is FALSE.  Only the death of Jesus was required for the forgiveness of sins, according to Christian theology. Also, since the sacrifice of animals was NOT necessary in order for God to forgive the sins of ancient Israelites, the forgiveness of sins is another invalid reason for instituting the practice of animal sacrifices.
3. If salvation is by the GRACE of God ALONE, then the practice of animal sacrifices teaches BAD THEOLOGY.   This practice implies that humans can by meritorious actions obtain God’s favor and forgiveness.  Giving a cherished or valuable animal to God and/or to God’s priests is clearly analogous to giving a present to a king or ruler to curry favor with that king or ruler.  But according to Christian theology, human beings are not capable of meriting God’s forgiveness and salvation.  So,  giving people a way to obtain God’s favor or forgiveness is another INVALID reason for instituting the practice of animal sacrifices.
4. If God is IMPASSIBLE, as Thomists insist, then the practice of animal sacrifices teaches BAD THEOLOGY.   This practice implies that humans can by their actions influence God’s feelings, attitude, or decisions.  But if human actions can influence God’s feelings, attitude, or decisions, then God is subject to the same sort of weaknesses and influences as humans who have feelings and desires. (I disagree with Thomists on this point, but the person who replied to my objections against Leviticus concerning homosexuality appears to be a Thomist).
5. If God is OMNIPOTENT, as nearly all Christians, Jews, and Muslims agree, then the practice of animal sacrifices teaches BAD THEOLOGY.  This practice implies that humans can by their actions influence Jehovah, which implies that humans have power over Jehovah.  If humans can influence Jehovah’s feelings, attitude, or decisions by performing ritual actions, such as the sacrifice of an animal, then Jehovah is subject to human power and influence and cannot be omnipotent, and thus Jehovah would NOT be God, and thus Leviticus would NOT be inspired by God.  Since the actions of humans cannot influence God’s feelings, attitude, or decisions, the desire to please and influence God is another invalid reason for instituting the practice of animal sacrifices.
6. If God is SELF-SUFFICIENT, as nearly all Christians believe, then the practice of animal sacrifices teaches BAD THEOLOGY.  This practice implies that humans can by their actions cause Jehovah to be happy or pleased, or deprive Jehovah of something that would cause Jehovah to be happy or pleased.   If we humans can make Jehovah happy or pleased by performing animal sacrifices, then this implies that Jehovah wants and desires that humans perform such actions, and that by failing to perform such actions we can deprive Jehovah of some potential satisfaction and happiness.  But in that case Jehovah would NOT be self-sufficient, and thus would NOT be God.  Thus, Leviticus would NOT be inspired by God.  Also, since animal sacrifices are not capable of causing God to be happy or pleased, this is another invalid reason for instituting the practice of animal sacrifices.
7. If God is PERFECTLY JUST, as nearly all Christians, Jews, and Muslims believe, then the practice of animal sacrifices teaches BAD THEOLOGY.   This practice implies that Jehovah is willing to inflict the punishment for human sins on an innocent animal who did not chose to sin or to disobey Jehovah.  It is manifestly unjust to kill an animal in order to prevent and eliminate the punishment that a human deserved for some sin or crime.  Thus, if Jehovah inspired the commands concerning the practice of animal sacrifice found in Leviticus, then Jehovah is clearly unjust and thus Jehovah is NOT God, and thus Leviticus was NOT inspired by God.  Since animal sacrifices do not constitute a fair and just way for the ancient Israelites to obtain forgiveness for their sins or crimes, this is another invalid reason for instituting the practice of animal sacrifices.
The term “scapegoat” originates from the book of Leviticus  (click on image below for a clearer view of the definitions):

(These definitions of “scapegoat” are from Dictionary.com.)
Making a person or group bear the blame for others or suffer in their place is clearly UNFAIR and UNJUST.  Doing the same thing to an animal is also clearly morally wrong.  This is NOT something that a perfectly good deity would promote or encourage.
 
CONCLUSION
If, as many conservative Catholics and conservative Evangelicals believe, Moses was the author of Leviticus, then we must conclude that Leviticus was NOT inspired by God, because Moses was a prophet of Jehovah, and Jehovah is clearly NOT God.
However, setting aside the question of the authorship of Leviticus, the CONTENT of Leviticus also gives us a good reason to believe that this book was NOT inspired by God.
I am not aware of any good reason for establishing the practice of animal sacrifices, especially if the practice clearly involved the killing of thousands of birds and mammals each year, potentially for many centuries.
However, there are plenty of good reasons AGAINST the practice of animal sacrifice, at least from a Christian point of view, and there are some good reasons AGAINST the practice of animal sacrifice from a Jewish and Muslim point of view as well.  The practice of animal sacrifices teaches many FALSE ideas about God, from a Christian point of view, and teaches some FALSE ideas about God from a Jewish or Muslim point of view.
Given the moral imperative that the practice of animal sacrifices as described in Leviticus are morally wrong UNLESS there is a good reason for establishing the practice of such animal sacrifices, and given that there appears to be no good reason for establishing this practice, and we have a number of good reason AGAINST the establishment of the practice of animal sacrifices as described in Leviticus, making it even more unlikely that there is good reason for establishing this practice,  it was morally wrong to issue the commands found in Leviticus concerning the practice of animal sacrifices, and thus Leviticus was NOT inspired by God.
Given that there is no good reason to establish the practice of animal sacrifices, there was also no good reason to establish the priesthood as described in Leviticus.  Furthermore, there also appear to be some good reasons AGAINST the establishment of the sort of priesthood described in Leviticus, making it even more unlikely that there is sufficient reason for establishing the sort of priesthood that is described in Leviticus.  Thus, we have another good reason to believe that Leviticus was NOT inspired by God.
============================
*Meslier [the atheist‐​priest Jean Meslier] repudiated the doctrine of passive obedience unequivocally. Throughout the Testament he endorsed violent resistance against tyrannical rulers and their unjust actions. Indeed, in Chapter 2 we find the first formulation of a saying that has commonly been attributed to the French atheist Denis Diderot (1713–1784): “Men will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest.” This is not how Meslier worded the sentiment, nor did he take credit for the idea. Rather, Meslier attributed the sentiment to a common Frenchman “who had no culture or education.”  (from: “Smith explains Meslier’s three major objections to Christian morality, as taught by Jesus.” by George H. Smith)
============================

UPDATE ON 9/9/2020

CLARIFICATION OF THE PHRASE “BAD THEOLOGY”:
One sort of BAD THEOLOGY is logically self-contradictory claims about God.
“God, if God exists, does not know how many hairs there are on my head.” This is BAD THEOLOGY, in that in the ordinary sense of the word “God”, someone is “God” only if that person is omniscient. So, there is a logical self-contradiction in that sentence. Similarly, the sentence “God, if God exists, has a master plan in which billions of human beings will end up being tormented in hell for all eternity” is BAD THEOLOGY, because in the ordinary sense of the word “God”, someone is “God” only if that person is perfectly morally good, but a person who plans for billions of human beings to be tormented in hell for all eternity is clearly NOT a perfectly morally good person.
Another sort of BAD THEOLOGY is claims about God that contradict one’s own basic theological beliefs. Here the “badness” is relative to a point of view (unlike the badness of a logical self-contradiction which is objectively and universally bad). Jesus clearly taught (according to the Gospels) that we should view God as our “heavenly Father”, as a person who loves and cares about the welfare of each and every human being. So to claim that “God is a terrible and wrathful person whom you must only approach through an intermediary, like a priest” is to contradict a basic teaching of Jesus. From a Christian point of view, claims about God that contradict a basic teaching of Jesus constitute BAD THEOLOGY and thus should be rejected.
Of course, what counts as BAD THEOLOGY from a Christian point of view does not necessarily count as BAD THEOLOGY from the point of view of another religion, like Islam or Buddhism. But the argument against homosexual sex based on the book of Leviticus is primarily a Christian argument (although it could also be a Jewish argument). So, when I argue that Leviticus teaches BAD THEOLOGY in relation to a Christian point of view, I am using the beliefs and assumptions of the people who are presenting the argument against homosexual sex based on Leviticus.
Some of my objections in this post present a DILEMMA to Christian believers. For example:
1. Either you accept the basic teachings of Jesus about God (as presented in the Gospels) or not.
2. If you accept the basic teachings of Jesus about God (as presented in the Gospels), then you must reject the practice of animal sacrifices as teaching BAD THEOLOGY.
3. If you reject the practice of animal sacrifices as teaching BAD THEOLOGY, then you must also (to be logically consistent) reject the view that the book of Leviticus was inspired by God.
4. If you do NOT accept the basic teachings of Jesus about God (as presented in the Gospels), then you must also (to be logically consistent) reject the basic Christian beliefs that Jesus was a true prophet and that Jesus was the divine Son of God and savior of mankind.
In short, the DILEMMA is this:
5. You can either remain a Christian believer and reject the inspiration of Leviticus OR you can reject the Christian religion as FALSE.

bookmark_borderLeviticus and Homosexuality – Part 3: No Messages from God (continued)

WHERE WE ARE
Should we view homosexual sex as morally wrong because it is (allegedly) condemned in the book of Leviticus?  In Part 1 of this series I outlined a dozen reasons to doubt this viewpoint.  Here is the first reason:

1. God does NOT exist, so no prophet and no book contains truth or wisdom from God. 

My doubts about the existence of God are related to skepticism in general, and to three specific areas of skepticism:

  • Skepticism about Supernatural Claims
  • Skepticism about Religion
  • Skepticism about the Existence of God

In Part 2 of this series I explained my reason for skepticism in general (i.e. CYNICISM), and I explained my reasons for skepticism about supernatural claims.
My skepticism about supernatural claims also reinforces my skepticism in general, because billions of people over many centuries have believed many false supernatural claims about various alleged supernatural powers and forces, and about various alleged supernatural beings, confirming my CYNICISM, the view that human beings are naturally and commonly irrational, illogical, ignorant, superstitious, gullible, prejudiced, dishonest, and self-deceived.
In this post I will cover my reasons for skepticism about religion, and in a future post I will cover my reasons for skepticism about the existence of God.
 
SKEPTICISM ABOUT RELIGION
A. Almost all religions are false or contain significant errors.
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:
https://secularfrontier.infidels.org/2018/11/14/skepticism-about-religion-part-5-disagreement-between-religions/
B. Christianity and most other religions involve a conjunction of several questionable beliefs. 
Because there is a significant number of independent beliefs and a significant degree of independence even with those Christian beliefs that have some logical or causal relationship,  probabilities must generally be multiplied here.  Although Christians often assert these beliefs dogmatically and with great confidence, it seems clear to me that an objective evaluation of these beliefs can at most arrive at the conclusion that the belief is probable or in a few cases, very probable.  But with a dozen beliefs at issue, it is highly probable that at least one of the dozen or so of these beliefs is false.  The same objection applies to all major world religions (and to at least some secular worldviews):
https://secularfrontier.infidels.org/2016/09/21/skepticism-and-conjunctions/
C. Religious belief is distributed geographically, and is based primarily on socialization and indoctrination.
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:
https://secularfrontier.infidels.org/2018/11/15/skepticism-about-religion-part-6-cultural-bias-and-social-conditioning/
John Loftus rightly emphasizes this point:
https://secularfrontier.infidels.org/2016/12/27/unapologetic-review-part-8-religion-irrationality/
https://religions.wiki/index.php/Outsider_test
D. The natural biases of egocentrism and sociocentrism motivate uncritical religious belief.
It is very obvious to most Christians that the Quran was NOT inspired by God. But the very same reasons why Christians reject the inspiration of the Quran apply to the Bible, especially to the Old Testament. This belief in the inspiration of the Bible is partly based on socialization and indoctination, but it is also based on egocentrism and sociocentrism. Christians firmly believe that their ingroup is right about the Bible being inspired and the Quran NOT being inspired, not based on an objective analysis of the relevant facts, but because they identify with Christians: “WE believe what is true and wise, but THEY (Muslims) believe what is false and foolish.” People in every century and every country commonly believe that their people are the best and wisest people in the world and that people of other cultures are bad and foolish, or at least not as good and wise as the people of their own culture.
Dr. Richard Paul, a leading theorist and advocate of Critical Thinking, emphasized the problem of motivated bias in thinking, especially the biases of egocentrism and sociocentrism:

Critical thinking is that mode of thinking — about any subject, content, or problem — in which the thinker improves the quality of his or her thinking by skillfully analyzing, assessing, and reconstructing it. Critical thinking is self-directed, self-disciplined, self-monitored, and self-corrective thinking. It presupposes assent to rigorous standards of excellence and mindful command of their use. It entails effective communication and problem-solving abilities, as well as a commitment to overcome our native egocentrism and sociocentrism.   [emphasis added]
http://www.criticalthinking.org/pages/our-conception-of-critical-thinking/411

Critical thinking is self-guided, self-disciplined thinking which attempts to reason at the highest level of quality in a fair-minded way.   People who think critically consistently attempt to live rationally, reasonably, empathically.    They are keenly aware of the inherently flawed nature of human thinking when left unchecked.   They strive to diminish the power of their egocentric and sociocentric tendencies.   They use the intellectual tools that critical thinking offers – concepts and principles that enable them to analyze, assess, and improve thinking.   They work diligently to develop the intellectual virtues of intellectual integrity, intellectual humility, intellectual civility, intellectual empathy, intellectual sense of justice and confidence in reason. [emphasis added]
http://www.criticalthinking.org/pages/defining-critical-thinking/766

E. Historical examples of wishful thinking (such as belief in panaceas) support skepticism about most religions and worldviews.
For historical examples see the section called “HISTORICAL EXAMPLES OF WISHFUL THINKING” in  Part 2 of this series.
The Christian worldview is dubious because it presents a panacea (Slides 22 and 23 from the PowerPoint that I created for a podcast: Thinking Critically about Christianity – Podcast 5).  For a clearer view, click on the images below:

The same objection can be raised against MOST religions (as well as at least some secular worldviews), so MOST religions should be viewed with significant skepticism.
F. Happiness and virtue do NOT correlate with religion. 
…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:
https://secularfrontier.infidels.org/2018/09/11/a-case-for-atheism-skepticism-about-religion-part-1/
https://secularfrontier.infidels.org/2018/09/15/skepticism-about-religion-part-2-caveats-and-qualifications/
https://secularfrontier.infidels.org/2018/09/20/skepticism-about-religion-part-3-more-caveats-and-qualifications/
…if religion is not the key to virtue, 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 virtue.  Although it is possible for a religion to be completely true (or mostly true) but fail to be the key to virtue, it seems more likely that a true (or mostly true) religion would be the key to virtue.  So, to the extent that a religion is NOT the key to virtue, we should at least be SKEPTICAL about the idea that the religion is completely or mostly true.  If religion in general is disconnected from virtue, 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.
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. … 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:
https://secularfrontier.infidels.org/2018/10/24/skepticism-about-religion-part-4-religion-and-virtue/
https://secularfrontier.infidels.org/2018/05/27/god-guns-and-school-shootings/
G. As science explains more and more of reality, religion explains less and less.
The Bible used to explain the origin of the universe, the origin of species, the origin of human beings, and the origin of languages.  But in the 21st century, science explains the origin and development of the universe, science explains the origin of species, and science explains the origin of human beings, and science and history explain the origin of languages.
Earthquakes, floods, lightning, pandemics, and famines used to be explained as acts of God by Christians and by other religious people.  But now science explains how and why these kinds of events happen.  Diseases and mental illnesses used to be explained in terms of the actions of God or the activity of demons.  But science now provides us with explanations of diseases and mental illnesses, as well as providing us with cures and therapies for treating diseases and mental illnesses.  So, with the continuing advance of science, there is less and less for religion to explain by appeals to supernatural causes (like the actions of God, or demons, or angels).
It now appears that about the only thing left for religion to explain is human nature, especially human minds, thinking, and consciousness.  But science is beginning to make significant advances in helping us to understand human minds, thinking, and consciousness, so it is reasonable to think that religion will soon lose this final bit of territory to further advances of science.  Given that there is very little left for religions to explain, and given that the explanations that religion provided in the past have nearly always turned out to be false and unsupported by facts and data, we now have very good reason to be skeptical about religion as a source of truth and wisdom.
H. Skepticism about Miracles and Revelation casts doubt on Western theistic religions (e.g. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam).
First, there are no modern-day miracles.  This is just as clear as that there are no modern-day psychics (who actually move objects with their minds or who actually “see” events in the future), no modern-day wizards or witches (who actually perform feats of magic), no modern-day mediums (who actually communicate with dead people), no modern-day philosopher’s stone, no modern-day elixir of life, no modern-day panacea.  Many people still believe in such bullshit, but there is no significant scientific evidence for such alleged supernatural phenomena.
Thus, it is reasonable to be suspicious of miracle stories from ancient times, especially in view of the fact that modern science has only been around since Galileo (around 1600), and the masses have never been particularly fond of science (e.g. the current president is proud of his anti-scientific beliefs, and he has millions of idiotic fans who adore him precisely because of his antagonism to science and scholarship).
Why would God perform miracles in the ancient past, when people were hopelessly ignorant, superstitious, and credulous, but then stop performing miracles when science, careful empirical observation, and education became common?  The most obvious explanation is NOT that God changed policies on interfering in human lives, but that miracle claims were always FALSE, and that it has simply become more difficult to get people to believe FALSE miracle claims in the age of science, careful empirical observation, and widespread public education.
Miracles play an important role in Western theistic religious traditions.  They provide “evidence” for divine revelation.  Jesus, for example, allegedly performed nature miracles (walking on water, turning water into wine,  stopping a storm with a single command, and bringing a dead person back to life).  These miracles are supposed to provide “evidence” that Jesus was a true prophet, and that his claims to be the Messiah and the divine Son of God were true, and thus miracles provide “evidence” to show that the teachings of Jesus are teachings from God, revelations from God.  Moses allegedly performed many amazing miracles, which is supposed to provide “evidence” that Moses was a true prophet, and thus that the laws of Moses were, as Moses claimed, from God himself, revelations from God.
Miracles, in short, are the main “evidence” that certain teachings or messages or sacred writings were inspired by God, messages from God.  But there is a fundamental problem with this way of supporting claims of divine revelation:  In order to be able to identify an event as being a MIRACLE, we must first figure out the plans and purposes of God.   Apart from such knowledge, we cannot identify a particular event as being something that God intentionally brought about.
We cannot see God.  We cannot observe God by means of any of our senses.  God has no body, according to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.  So, we cannot physically observe God doing something, in the way that we can observe people and animals (who have physical bodies) do something.  Because God has no physical body,  God does not leave any physical traces.  No finger prints, no foot prints,  no hairs, no saliva, no sperm, no blood, no urine, no skin cells.
The only way to try to identify God as the being who intentionally brought about event X, is to know what the plans and purposes of God are, and to determine whether bringing about event X fits well with God’s plans and purposes.  The problem is that we don’t know anything specific about God’s plans and purposes.
We can infer from the definition of God that God will only do things that an all-knowing, all-powerful, and perfectly good person would do.  But that doesn’t really tell us much.  Afterall, God, if God exists, appears to have created a world with a great deal of evil and suffering in it, which doesn’t seem like what we would expect an all-knowing, all-powerful, and perfectly good person to do.  God, if God exists, created a world where everything dies, and where billions of sentient creatures suffer from physical injuries, mutations, poisons, diseases, parasites, cancer, predators, fires, floods, earthquakes, famines, etc.
If there is a God, God does not behave in the way that we would expect a perfect being to behave.  So, either there is no God, or we are not very good at figuring out the plans and purposes God.  Of course religious people often claim to know God’s plans and purposes, but their claims are based either on scriptural revelation (e.g. the Bible, the Quran, Book of Mormon) or on alleged personal communication with God.  But if the Bible and Jesus require miracles to support their claims to divine inspiration, then so do individuals who claim to talk with God today.  There is no reason to accept such claims about personal communication with God apart from strong evidence, namely the occurrence of a miracle associated directly with that person.
But now we are reasoning in a BIG CIRCLE.  In order to show that Jesus or the Bible (or the Quran or the Book of Mormon) are truly communicating messages from God, we must first determine whether some alleged events actually occurred and were actually miracles (e.g. Jesus really did walk on water AND this happened because God intentionally caused it to happen, and Jesus really did turn water into wine AND this happened because God intentionally caused it to happen).  But in order to determine whether some alleged event really was a miracle, we must first know details about the plans and purposes of God, which we can only know on the basis of revelation (i.e. messages from God).
So, it appears to me that it is NOT possible to identify an event as being a miracle, because we don’t know any details about God’s plans and purposes (if God exists), and because we need to first identify a miracle before we can get specific information about God’s plans and purposes:
The above is slide 13 from my PowerPoint called “Belief in Miracles“.
In the next post in this series, I will give my reasons for skepticism about the existence of God.

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…

bookmark_borderA Simple and Obvious Explanation

Catholic Church Sexual Abuse Scandal: 7 Excerpts From the Grand Jury Report

A nearly 900-page report investigating abuse in six dioceses over a period of 70 years documents more than 300 abusive priests.

=============================
How can God allow priests and bishops to sexually abuse thousands of children for decades, and allow them to work at covering up this abuse for decades? How can God allow so many corrupt and evil church leaders to exist, leaders who supposedly guide faithful Christians on matters of character, virtues, and morality?
There is a very simple and obvious answer to this question:

There is no God.

NOBODY is guiding the Catholic Church from heaven. The Catholic Church is a human institution governed by morally flawed human beings and by some evil human beings.
IF there is no God, then it is no surprise that the Catholic Church and other religious institutions are sometimes among the worst promoters of evil and immorality in the world. IF there is no God, then it is no surprise that thousands of children have been sexually abused by morally corrupt Catholic priests for decades, and that their horrible crimes have been covered up by morally corrupt bishops for decades.
There is no need to be puzzled or perplexed by these facts, they make perfect sense if you simply accept the assumption that there is no God, that there is no Father in heaven who is watching over us, protecting us. We are on our own. We must protect ourselves from morally corrupt and evil people.
The Catholic Church will not protect you or your children from harm, and God will not protect you or your children from the Catholic Church. If you want protection from harm and evil, then don’t turn to the Catholic Church, and don’t pray to God; that is just a waste of your limited time and energy. If you want protection from harm and from evil people, YOU have to protect yourself and your children, because there is no “heavenly Father” watching over you or those you love.

bookmark_borderGod, Guns, and School Shootings

Ten dead and ten injured in a high school shooting, but Texas Governor Greg Abbott believes “the problem is not guns, it’s hearts without God.”

Texas Governor: ‘The Problem is Not Guns, It’s Hearts Without God’


The problem with Governor Abbott’s theory is that it doesn’t fit the facts.
For example, California has a larger population (39.5 million) than Texas does (28.3 million), so one would expect that there would be more school shootings with fatalities and more school shootings with injuries but no fatalities in California than in Texas. But the reverse is actually the case:
School Shootings with Fatalities (10/1/15 to 5/18/18)
⦁ Texas – 6
⦁ California – 5
School Shootings with Injuries and no Fatalities (10/1/15 to 5/18/18)
⦁ Texas – 10
⦁ California – 9
[Data is from LA Times report on school shootings and population data is from the Census Bureau ]
So, the population of Texas is only 72% of the population of California, but Texas had 16 serious school shootings (with fatalities or with injuries but no fatalities) while California had 14 such school shootings in the same time frame, making the number of such school shootings in Texas 114% of the number of such school shootings in California.
Clearly, the facts show that Texas has a greater problem with school shootings than California does.  If “hearts without God” was the root cause of this problem, then we would expect to find that the population of California was more religious than the population of Texas. But the reverse is the case. The population of California is less religious than the population of Texas:
Percentage of the Population that Are Atheists or Agnostics
⦁ California – 9%
⦁ Texas – 5%
Percentage of the Population that are “Nones” (unaffiliated with any religion)
⦁ California – 27%
⦁ Texas – 18%
Percentage of the Population that are Christians
⦁ California – 63%
⦁ Texas – 77%
[Data is from the Pew Research Center ]
A larger portion of the population in California are atheists or agnostics than the portion of the population in Texas. A larger portion of the population in California are unaffiliated with any religion than the portion of the population in Texas.  A smaller portion of the population in California are Christians than the portion of the population in Texas.
Clearly, if “hearts without God” is the root cause of serious school shootings, then we would expect California to have a much greater problem with serious school shootings than Texas, but in fact Texas has a greater problem than California with serious school shootings!
The factual evidence against Governor Abbott’s theory is not limited to a comparison between the two most populous states in the USA. The bigger problem with his theory is that the USA is a very religious country compared with European countries, and yet the USA has a much bigger problem with school shootings than we find in European countries:
Number of School Shootings Since 2009
⦁ USA – 288
⦁ France – 2
⦁ Germany – 1
⦁ Spain – 0
⦁ Italy – 0
⦁ UK – 0
[Data from a CNN report on school shootings]
The USA has a larger population than these European countries, but the size of population does not account for the huge difference in the number of school shootings. Let’s put the number of school shootings in terms of how many occur per ten million people:
Number of School Shootings/Ten million People Since 2009
⦁ USA – 288/32.8 = 8.78
⦁ France – 2/6.7 = 0.30
⦁ Germany – 1/8.0 = 0.01
⦁ Spain – 0/4.9 = 0.00
⦁ Italy – 0/6.2 = 0.00
⦁ UK – 0/6.5 = 0.00
[Data is from the US Census Burea and from a CNN report on school shootings]
Clearly the USA has a much bigger problem with school shootings than do European countries. But the USA is a more religious country than the above European countries, with the exception of Italy:
Percentage of the Population that is Not Religious (2017)
⦁ Italy – 26%
⦁ USA – 39%
⦁ France – 50%
⦁ Spain – 57%
⦁ Germany – 60%
⦁ UK – 69%
[Data is from WIN-Gallup International Association ]
Note that other international data indicates that Italy and the USA are about the same in terms of portion of the population that claims to have “no religion”:
Percentage of Population that has “no religion” (2006)
⦁ USA – 20%
⦁ Italy – 18%
[Data is from the Dentsu Communication Institute  ]
Clearly, the population of the USA has a significantly higher percentage of religious people than the populations of France, Germany, Spain, and the UK, but the problem of school shootings is a much bigger problem in the USA than in those European countries. The population of Italy is slightly more religious than the population of the USA, but the number of school shootings per ten million is dramatically lower in Italy (i.e. zero school shootings since 2009), so the slight difference in religiosity does not account for that huge difference in the size of the school shooting problem in those countries.
California is significantly less religious than Texas, but Texas has a bigger problem with serious school shootings than California, and a number of European countries are less religious than the USA, but the USA has a far bigger problem with school shootings than do European countries.
It is clear that the facts do NOT support Governor Abbott’s theory. If any thing, the facts indicate the opposite of his theory. Religiosity and belief in God appear to be positively correlated with the occurrence of school shooting incidents.
============================
UPDATE on 5/28/18
============================
The population of Canada is 35.8 million vs. 28.3 million for Texas. The size of the population of Texas is 79% of the size of the population of Canada.  [Canada population is from the Census Bureau ]
Between 10/1/15 and 5/18/18, as stated in my post above, there were 16 school shooting incidents in Texas that involved fatalities or injuries.
Since 2009, there have been only 2 school shooting incidents in Canada where at least one person (other than the shooter) was shot. Canada has a significantly larger population than Texas, and the period of time for the school shootings in Canada is more than 3.5 times longer than the period of time in which the 16 shootings occurred in Texas (32 month period for Texas data, 113 month period for Canada data). [Canada school shooting data is from a CNN report  ]
So, the number of serious school shootings in Texas during the longer period of time (starting back in 2009 instead of 2015) could easily be double or even triple the 16 school shootings that occurred in the past 32 months in Texas. It is very likely that the number of serious school shooting incidents in Texas is at least TEN TIMES more than the number of serious school shooting incidents in Canada, even though Canada has a significantly LARGER population than Texas.
So, if “hearts without God” is the root cause of school shootings, then we would expect Canada to be MUCH MORE religious than Texas, but in fact, the opposite is the case.
I don’t have data that directly compares Canada and Texas, but the data I do have clearly indicates that Canada is significantly less religious than Texas.
57% of the population in Canada is not religious. [Data is from WIN-Gallup International Association ]
I don’t have the same statistic for Texas, but the data strongly indicates that only around 20% of the population of Texas is not religious. Here are two statistics that support this estimate:
(1) 18% of the population of Texas are not affiliated with any religion, and
(2) 86% of the people of Texas say either that religion is “very important” or that it is “somewhat important” to them.
[Data is from the Pew Research Center ]
Canada is MUCH LESS religious than Texas, yet Texas has FAR MORE serious school shootings than Canada, even though Canada has a significantly larger population than Texas.
This is yet another significant comparison that provides strong evidence against Abbott’s theory about the cause of school shootings.
============================
UPDATE on 5/29/18
============================
According to Governor Abbott’s view, New York must be much more religious than Texas.
NY has a population of 19.8 million, which is 70 percent of the population of Texas. So if school shootings in NY were as common as in Texas, we would expect to have had about 11 serious school shootings in NY over the same 32 month period in which there were 16 serious school shootings in Texas. [Data on population of NY and Texas is from the Census Bureau ]
But the actual number of such school shootings in New York was ZERO! On Abbott’s theory, NY should be much more religious than Texas, but it is actually less religious than Texas. [Data on number of serious school shootings is from an LA Times report ]
Like California, 27 percent of the population of NY are NOT affiliated with any religion, while only 18 percent of Texans have no religious affiliation.  Also, 10% of the population in NY are atheists or agnostics, while only 5% of Texans are atheists or agnostics.  So, Texas is MORE RELIGIOUS than New York, but the problem of serious school shootings is MUCH GREATER in Texas than in New York. [Data on religion in New York is from the Pew Research Center and data on religion in Texas is also from the Pew Research Center ]
Governor Abbott’s theory about the cause of school shootings is clearly contrary to the facts.
============================
UPDATE on 5/30/18
============================
One last comparison, just to put a final nail in the coffin of Governor Abbott’s theory that the root cause of school shootings is “hearts without God”.
ALABAMA VS. VERMONT
It would be interesting to compare the frequency of serious school shooting incidents in the most religious state with the frequency of serious school shooting incidents in the least religious state to see whether that would confirm or disconfirm Governor Abbott’s theory about the root cause of school shooting incidents.  If his view was correct, we would expect to see a much bigger problem with school shooting incidents in the least religious state as compared with the most religious state.
Alabama is the most religious state in the USA:
⦁ It has the lowest percentage of religious “nones”: 12%
⦁ It has the lowest percentage of people who are atheists or agnostics: 2%
⦁ It has the highest percentage of people who are Christians: 86%
Vermont is the least religious state in the USA:
⦁ It has the highest percentage of religious “nones”: 37%
⦁ It has the highest percentage of people who are atheists or agnostics: 14%
⦁ It has the lowest percentage of people who are Christians: 54%
[Data on religion in Alabama and Vermont is from the Pew Research Center ]
[Religious “nones” are people who are not affiliated with any religion.]
However, a comparison of school shooting incidents between Alabama and Vermont would not be very helpful, because Vermont has a very small population of only about 624,000. (In my state, the state of Washington, the city of Seattle has a larger population than the entire state of Vermont!)  Alabama has a much larger population of about 4.8 million.  The population of Alabama is 7.7 times the size of the population of Vermont. [Data on population of states is from the Census Bureau ]
WASHINGTON IS ONE OF THE LEAST RELIGIOUS STATES IN THE USA
It would be more appropriate to compare Alabama with one of the least religious states that has a population in the millions of people. My state, the state of Washington, is just such a state.
Washington has a high percentage of religious “nones”, a relatively high percentage of people who are atheists or agnostics, and a relatively low percentage of Christians, so it is similar to Vermont in terms of religiosity, and it is among the least religious states in the USA:
Percentage of Population who are Religious “nones”
⦁ Washington: 32% religious “nones”
⦁ Vermont: 37% religious “nones”
Percentage of Population who are Atheists or Agnostics
⦁ Washington: 10% are atheists or agnostics
⦁ Vermont: 14% are atheists or agnostics
Percentage of Population who are Christians
⦁ Washington: 61% Christians
⦁ Vermont: 54% Christians
[Data on religion in Washington and Vermont is from the Pew Research Center ]
ALABAMA VS. WASHINGTON
Comparison of the religiosity of Alabama and Washington:
Percentage of Population who are Religious “nones”
⦁ Alabama: 12% religious “nones”
⦁ Washington: 32% religious “nones”
Percentage of Population who are Atheists or Agnostics
⦁ Alabama: 2% are atheists or agnostics
⦁ Washington: 10% are atheists or agnostics
Percentage of Population who are Christians
⦁ Alabama: 86% Christians
⦁ Washington: 61% Christians
[Data on religion in Washington and Alabama is from the Pew Research Center ]
Clearly, Alabama is a much more religious state than Washington, so according to Abbott’s theory, we should expect that serious school shootings are a much bigger problem in Washington than in Alabama.  But the OPPOSITE is actually the case.  Alabama has a much bigger problem with serious school shooting incidents than Washington.
Size of Population 
⦁ Washington population: 7.4 million
⦁ Alabama population: 4.8 million
[Data on population of these states is from the Census Bureau ]
The population of Washington is 1.54 times the size of the population of Alabama.  There have been 7 serious school shooting incidents in Alabama over the past 32 months, so if school shootings were as common in Washington as in Alabama, we would expect to have had about 11 serious school shootings in Washington over the past 32 months:
7 serious school shooting incidents  x  1.54  =  10.78 or about 11 serious school shooting incidents
But in fact there have been less than half of that number of serious school shootings in Washington:
⦁ Alabama had 7 serious school shooting incidents in the past 32 months
⦁ Washington had 5 serious school shooting incidents in the past 32 months
[Data on school shooting incidents is from an LA Times report on school shooting incidents. ]
So, serious school shootings are MUCH LESS of a problem in Washington than in Alabama.
Because Alabama is a MUCH MORE religious state than Washington, Abbott’s theory about the root cause of school shootings leads us to expect that serious school shooting incidents would be much more common in Washington than in Alabama.  But the OPPOSITE is the case.  Alabama is a much more religious state (the most religious state in the USA) but it has a much bigger problem with serious school shootings than Washington, which is one of the least religious states in the USA.
When we compare the most religious state in the USA with one of the least religious states, we find that the facts are EXACTLY THE OPPOSITE of what Governor Abbott’s theory predicts.

bookmark_borderPodcast 5: How Should We Evaluate the Christian Worldview?

In Podcast 5, I briefly review some key points from Podcast 3 and Podcast 4, and then I discuss how to evaluate the Christian worldview:
http://thinkingcriticallyabout.podbean.com/e/podcast-5-how-should-we-evaluate-the-truth-of-the-christian-worldview/
Some key points in Podcast 5:

  • Religions are basically systems of religious beliefs.
  • The core of a system of religious beliefs is a worldview.
  • A worldview can be understood in terms of a general problem-solving scheme.
  • A worldview can be understood as the answers to four basic worldview questions.
  • Although there are many versions of Christianity, there is just one Christian worldview.
  • Critical Thinking involves analytic thinking.
  • Critical Thinking involves healthy skepticism and caution about wishful thinking and emotional bias.
  • Three classic historical examples of wishful thinking are:  the philosopher’s stone, the elixir of life, and panacea.
  • The Christian worldview presents Christianity as a panacea.
  • Because the Christian worldview can be analyzed into four parts, there are at least 16 different possible evaluations of Christianity (based on a truth-table analysis of four claims).
  • If just one of the Christian worldview’s answers to a basic worldview question is wrong, then the Christian worldview is a failure.
  • If just one of the Christian worldview’s answers to a basic worldview question is right, then the Christian worldview is partially true, and at least a few basic Christian beliefs would be true.
  • The four answers of the Christian worldview can be further clarified by being analyzed into four statements per answer, so that the Christian worldview can be understood in terms of 16 different claims or statements.

There is a PowerPoint (in a PDF) available with the content of the podcast:
http://thinkingcriticallyabout.podbean.com/e/powerpoint-for-podcast-5-pdf/
My previous podcasts are available here:
Thinking Critically About: Is Christianity True?