bookmark_borderDoes God Exist? Part 2: Believe What You Were Raised to Believe

In my humble opinion, the question “Does God exist?” is best answered by taking a particular approach:

We should answer this question by means of philosophical investigation, especially by critical examination of philosophical arguments for and against the existence of God.

However, this is NOT the only way to approach the question “Does God exist?”.  Here is an alternative way of answering this question:

1. Believe whatever religion or worldview you were raised to believe.

Although this may seem like an obviously UNREASONABLE way of answering this question, this is the way that almost everyone (or at least most people) initially forms political, religious, and ideological beliefs.
Usually, the parents of a child, if they raise the child together, share similar political and religious beliefs or share a similar worldview.  In that case, the child grows up and is socialized with those political and religious or worldview beliefs constantly operating in the background, and sometimes those beliefs are directly asserted or referenced by the parents.
In recent years marriage between two people who identify with a different religious group has become more common in the USA; nevertheless, about 60% of marriages in recent years are between people of the same religious group, and an even larger portion of marriages from previous decades were between people of the same religious group:

…almost four-in-ten Americans (39%) who have married since 2010 have a spouse who is in a different religious group. By contrast, only 19% of those who wed before 1960 report being in a religious intermarriage.

Many of these recent interfaith marriages are between Christians and the religiously unaffiliated (sometimes called “nones”). Of all U.S. adults married since 2010, almost one-in-five (18%) are in marriages between a Christian and a religiously unaffiliated spouse.

(“Interfaith marriage is common in U.S., particularly among the recently wed” by Caryle Murphy, JUNE 2, 2015)
In the USA people who identify as Democrats and marry or live with a partner are usually married to or live with a Democrat, and people who identify as a Republicans and marry or live with a partner are usually married or live with a Republican:

While many Republicans and Democrats have politically diverse networks of friends, the vast majority of those who are married or living with a partner say their spouse or partner belongs to the same political party. Fully 77% of Republicans who are married or living with a partner – and an identical percentage of married Democrats – say their spouse belongs to the same party.

(Partisanship and Political Animosity in 2016, June 22, 2016, p. 26)

By Capt. John Severns, U.S. Air Force - Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8822138
Schoolgirls sit in the girls’ section of a school in Bamozai, near Gardez, Paktya Province, Afghanistan. The school has no building; classes are held outdoors in the shade of an orchard.

So, in the USA, children are usually raised by parents who share the same religion, and children are usually raised by parents who belong to the same political party.  (However, there is probably a large portion of children in the USA whose parents were EITHER of different religions OR of different political parties).
In the case that the parents of the child do NOT share similar political or religious beliefs, or do NOT share a similar worldview, then the child will have early exposure to opposing or alternative political or religious views, or to alternative worldviews.  In that circumstance, the child cannot simply accept what they “were raised to believe” because their parents influence them in different ideological directions.  The child could take sides, and adopt either one parent’s view or the other parent’s view (or adopt one parent’s religion and the other parent’s political party), and that would partially but not completely follow this approach.
If one’s parents do share a similar ideology or worldview, then there are some advantages to following this way of answering the question “Does God exist?”, especially while the child remains under the care and supervision of his/her parents.   Adopting the ideology or worldview of one’s parents makes it easier to get along with, to cooperate with, and to communicate with, one’s parents.  It is generally a good thing to get along with, to cooperate with, and to communicate with one’s parents, so adopting the ideology or worldview of one’s parents, can make one’s family life smoother and more enjoyable.
Furthermore, in some cultures and countries, it can be dangerous and even deadly to reject the ideology or worldview of one’s parents.  In a totalitarian country, for example, if one’s parents have drank the cool-aid and adore the dictator or the “dear leader” of their country, there might be risk of physical punishment or even death to openly oppose the beliefs and practices promoted by “dear leader”.  Sometimes, sacrificing one’s intellectual integrity and accepting the dominant ideology is necessary to avoid homelessness, starvation, prison or even death.
Also, not only do most of us initially form our political and religious or ideological beliefs based on what we were raised to believe, but there isn’t really much of an alternative to this, especially for young children.
Although I share Richard Dawkin’s concern about children being indoctrinated into Christianity or Islam or other religions, the ideal of individual freedom of thought and of freedom to explore a wide range of alternative ideologies and worldviews is NOT directly applicable to young children.
In order to be ABLE to rationally and intellectually analyze and evaluate an ideology or worldview, one needs to (a) learn how to read, (b) learn how to write, (c) learn how to reason, (d) learn some history, (e) learn some math, (f) learn some science, and (g) learn about different cultures, religions, worldviews.  This takes time.  This takes years of education.  A three or four-year-old child does not have the intellectual ability and the knowledge necessary to make reasonable judgments about alternative ideologies and worldviews.
I’m not opposed to young children learning about how to think rationally about political issues, religious issues, about ideological issues or worldview issues, but they need knowledge and skills to do this well, and the knowledge and skills they need take years for them to learn.  We cannot simply present a wide variety of worldviews to three or four-year-old children, and just let them loose to choose their favorite ideology or worldview.
Furthermore, the minds of young children would be too easily influenced and manipulated by teachers and other authorities, even if those teachers and authorities appear to be or try to be “objective” and “fair” in presenting the various alternative viewpoints.
However, we should do a better job of preparing children to take on this project of choosing an ideology or worldview or of creating their own ideology/worldview, so that when they are in high school and college, they can do a good job of rationally evaluating alternative ideologies and worldviews, and make good choices on these matters.
Setting the issue of young children to one side, is there any reason why teenagers or college-age young adults should take the approach of simply believing what they were raised to believe?  One problem here is that, assuming a teenager already has more or less adopted the religious and political views of one or both of their parents (or guardians), it does not seem possible for that teenager to simply let that point of view go and start all over with a blank slate.
We might want teenagers to have the freedom to explore alternative points of view, and we might want them to have good guidance as to how to do this kind of investigation in an honest, rational, logical, fair-minded, and well-informed way, but it seems psychologically and logically impossible to toss out all of one’s previous ideological beliefs and start from scratch.  Realistically, we can only question and challenge one or two aspects of one’s current point of view, because if we set aside our entire point of view, then we have no adequate basis for forming rational conclusions about any given religion or ideology.
But there are obvious problems with simply sticking with what we learned from mom and dad (or from mom and mom, or dad and dad).  First, many parents do NOT have well-thought-out and well-informed views on religion or politics.  If one’s parents both have PhDs in philosophy or comparative religion or political science, then maybe sticking with what mom and dad believed would not be a bad option, because their opinions (in the areas they have studied) are likely to be well-thought-out and well-informed.
But most of us are not born to such parents.  Some people have parents who have college degrees in literature or history or drama or engineering or biology, and those parents, though well-educated, might not have well-thought-out or well-informed views on religion or politics.  Some people are born to parents who did not graduate from college with any degree.  Some people are born to parents who only graduated from high school.  Some people are born to parents who never graduated from high school.  So, in simply adopting the views of one’s parent or parents, many people will be adopting views that were not well-thought-out or well-informed, at least not by their parents.
Another obvious problem with the believe whatever your parents raised you to believe approach is that alternative religious and political viewpoints contradict each other on many important points, so they cannot all be correct.  In other words, we can see from the start that MOST religions are FALSE or at least contain a number of significant false beliefs.  We can see from the start that MOST political viewpoints are FALSE or at least contain a number of significant false beliefs.  If there is a TRUE religion or a TRUE worldview, then if we all just follow in the footsteps of our parents, MOST of us will be adopting a FALSE religion, or a FALSE worldview, or a religion or worldview that contains a number of significant false beliefs.
On the other hand if there is a TRUE religion or a TRUE worldview, or a worldview that does not contain a number of significant false beliefs, then careful consideration of arguments and evidence will presumably help people to find or discover that religion or worldview.   So, at least potentially, people who are raised with very different religious or ideological or political points of view, could come to agreement about which religion or ideology or worldview is TRUE, because they could be pointed the same direction by examination of relevant evidence and reasoning.  If we all stick stubbornly to the beliefs of our parents, then human beings will remain divided and in disagreement on a number of our most basic beliefs and values.
The main objection against the use of arguments and evidence in the evaluation of religions, ideologies, and worldviews is that some believe that these are purely subjective ideas and values and thus that there can be no objective and rational way of determining that one religion or ideology or worldview is any better or “more true” than another.  If there is no such thing as objective truth in these matters, then I suppose that dogmatically sticking with the beliefs of your parents is no worse than some other arbitrary way of selecting a religion, worldview, or ideology.

bookmark_borderDoes God Exist? Part 1: How Should We Answer this Question?

ANSWERING THE QUESTION “DOES GOD EXIST?” THROUGH PHILOSOPHY

How should we answer the question “Does God exist?” ?  Having studied philosophy as an undergraduate at Sonoma State University, and having studied philosophy as a graduate student at the University of Windsor, and then having studied philosophy for a number of years more at UC Santa Barbara, the way to approach this question seems obvious to me:

We should answer this question by means of philosophical investigation, especially by critical examination of philosophical arguments for and against the existence of God.


 
But, given that my educational background has been focused on philosophy, one might suspect that my view of this matter is a bit biased, and that other ways of arriving at an answer to this question should be considered before hopping onto the PHILOSOPHY BUS, and spending a lot of time and energy learning about and evaluating philosophical arguments for and against the existence of God.
 
One objection that has been raised against the philosophy of religion in recent years is that it is too focused on CHRISTIANITY.  There are many religions and religious worldviews that one could investigate and evaluate by means of philosophy and philosophical argumentation, but philosophy of religion has traditionally been focused on the basic beliefs of the Christian faith, to the exclusion of philosophical investigation of other religions and religious worldviews, and non-religious worldviews (such as Marxism and Humanism).
There are MANY different religions and worldviews competing for our allegiance, so it seems question-begging, narrow-minded, and sociocentric to focus all (or even most) of one’s time and energy on evaluation of basic beliefs of CHRISTIANITY.  What about Islam? Hinduism? Buddhism? Taoism? and what about secular worldviews, like Marxism and Humanism?
I think this is a legitimate and significant criticism of philosophy of religion, as this sub-discipline of philosophy has been practiced in recent centuries.  However, if one is interested in the question “Is Christianity true?” there is a lot of philosophical investigation in the philosophy of religion that is helpful in answering that question.  And since the question “Does God exist?” is concerned with a basic Christian belief, there is a lot of philosophical investigation in the philosophy of religion that is helpful in answering that question.
Furthermore, the question “Does God exist?” has implications beyond the evaluation of Christianity and the Christian worldview.  Jews also believe in the existence of God.  Muslims also believe in the existence of God.  Some Hindus believe in the existence of God, and a number of Indigenous religious traditions (such as a number of Native American tribes) include a belief in the existence of God, or of a supreme being who has many of the characteristics of God as conceived of by Jews, Christians, and Muslims.  So, the question “Does God exist?” is NOT purely and strictly a question about a basic Christian belief.  It is also about a basic Jewish belief, a basic belief of Islam, a basic belief of at least one form of Hinduism, and a basic belief of many forms of Indigenous religious traditions.
Another way of putting this point is that arguments for and against the existence of God are, in general, applicable to evaluations of not only Christianity, but also of Judaism, Islam, some forms of Hinduism, and of a number of Indigenous religious traditions. If there is a solid argument for the existence of God, this would provide support not only for Christianity, but for many other theistic religious traditions, and if there is a solid argument against the existence of God, this would (in most cases) provide a good reason to doubt or reject not only Christianity, but also Judaism, Islam, some forms of Hinduism, and many Indigenous religious belief systems.
In short, it is true that the philosophy of religion has tended to be focused primarily on the basic beliefs of the Christian religion, and has not paid much attention to other religions, nor to the non-religious worldviews that compete with various religious traditions for our allegiance; however, when it comes to the question “Does God exist?”, this is a question that the philosophy of religion is well-suited to help us answer.

OTHER WAYS OF ANSWERING THE QUESTION “DOES GOD EXIST?”

Before we all hop onto the PHILOSOPHY BUS, let’s consider the alternative ways of answering the question “Does God exist?”.  Some people think they know about God’s existence through ordinary experience, and some people think they know about God’s existence through religious experience, and some people think they know about God through intellectual investigations outside of philosophy.
Here are ten common ideas about how one might answer the question “Does God exist?” apart from philosophical investigation of this question:

1. Believe whatever religion or worldview you were raised to believe.

2. Believe whatever religious or ideological ideas make you feel happy and content.

3. Try out different religions/worldviews to see which one works best for you.

4. Try praying to God, to see if God answers your prayers.

5. Try prayer, meditation, and worship, to see if you feel the presence of God or hear the voice of God.

6. Try reading the sacred texts of various religions, to see if you sense divine wisdom in any of them. 

7. Try experiencing nature and natural beauty, to see if you feel the presence of God that way.

8. Try experiencing and appreciating art, music, and literature, to see if you sense the presence or influence of God in those human artifacts.

9. Study human history, to see if you can discern the influence of God on human cultures and societies.

10. Study nature scientifically, to see if you can discern the handiwork of God in nature.

In Part 2 of this series, I will begin to consider and evaluate these alternative ways of arriving at an answer to the question “Does God exist?”  If you have any other alternatives that are widespread or that seem promising or interesting, please point them out in a comment to this post.

bookmark_borderThree Ways to Approach Christianity

DIFFERENT WAYS TO APPROACH CHRISTIANITY

There is more than one way to skin a cat, and more than one way to divide a pie.
There are three approaches to the analysis and evaluation of Christianity that I have noticed, and they each have different advantages and disadvantages:

  • The Christian-Apologetics Approach
  • The Philosophical Approach
  • The Problem-Solving Approach

I’m sure there are other approaches besides these three, but these three appear to be useful and worth knowing about.
The Problem-Solving approach and the Philosophical approach can be applied to other religions and worldviews, so they are better for making comparisons and comparative evaluations.  There might be a way to abstract from the Christian-Apologetics approach to make it applicable to other religions and worldviews, but I haven’t figured out how to do that, so far.
Each approach can be explained or defined in terms of a particular set of questions, questions that provide conceptual and intellectual guidance for exploring and understanding and evaluating Christianity.

THE CHRISTIAN-APOLOGETICS APPROACH TO CHRISTIANITY

The Christian-Apologetics approach is based on classical Christian apologetics, which goes back at least as far as Thomas Aquinas.  Classical Christian apologetics starts out by arguing for the existence of God, and then in a second phase moves on to using miracles (divine interventions in the natural world) as the basis for determining the “True Religion” or the “True Church” or the “True Holy Book” or the “True Prophet/Messiah”.
Miracles (especially the resurrection of Jesus) are used to establish a primary source of REVELATION or theological knowledge.  Once the “True Religion” or “True Church” or “True Holy Book” or “True Prophet” is established, then a third phase begins, and other Christian beliefs are justified on the basis of that source of theological truth or knowledge.  The key questions that define this approach to Christianity are these:

  1. Does God exist?
  2. Did Jesus exist?
  3. Did Jesus rise from the dead?
  4. Is Jesus the divine Son of God and Savior of humankind?

I suppose one way to (partially) abstract from these questions that are specific to Christianity, is to focus on what appears to be the most central issue behind these questions:

What is a reliable source of theological or religious truth or knowledge?

The ultimate point and purpose of classical Christian apologetics is to “teach a person how to fish”, that is, to persuade people that there is a particular source of theological truth that one should rely upon (e.g. the teachings of Jesus, or the teachings of the Pope, or the teachings of the Bible).  So, it appears that the ultimate or primary focus of classical Christian Apologetics is EPISTEMOLOGICAL:  How can we determine what is true or false in the areas of theology and ethics?
 

THE PHILOSOPHICAL APPROACH TO CHRISTIANITY

The Philosophical approach is based on the major sub-disciplines of philosophy.  The key questions that define this approach could be formulated in the following very simple way:

  1. What is the epistemology of the Christian worldview?
  2. What are the metaphysics of the Christian worldview?
  3. What are the ethics of the Christian worldview?
  4. What is the philosophical anthropology of the Christian worldview?

These four questions, however, are somewhat misleading.  They assume that the Christian worldview involves explicit philosophical concepts and theories that are accepted by all or most educated Christians.  But most people, and most Christian believers, are not that intellectually inclined, and among intellectually inclined Christians, there can be a diversity of philosophical concepts and theories.  It is, of course, worthwhile to become familiar with some of the different philosophical concepts and theories embraced by different intellectually inclined Christians.  But Jesus and the authors of the Bible were NOT philosophers, and they don’t lay out much in the way of clear philosophical concepts and theories.
So, although I think it is helpful to think about Christianity using these basic categories of philosophical investigation, one should not assume that there is such a thing as “the Christian theory of epistemology” or “the Christian theory of ethics”.  It is tempting to think that there is such a thing as “the Christian theory of metaphysics” but even in this area there are gaps and disagreements between intellectually inclined Christian believers.  For example, there is an ancient division between Platonist Christian thinkers and Aristotelian Christian thinkers, and that is mostly a matter of disagreements in metaphysics.  So, the questions defining the Philosophical approach to Christianity should probably be a bit more loose:

  1. What are the epistemological assumptions, claims, and implications of the Christian worldview?
  2. What are the metaphysical assumptions, claims, and implications of the Christian worldview?
  3. What are the ethical assumptions, claims, and implications of the Christian worldview?
  4. What are the philosophical anthropology assumptions, claims, and implications of the Christian worldview?

In other words, there may be only bits and pieces of philosophy that can be extracted from the Christian worldview.  There may be a variety of different philosophical concepts and theories that are compatible with the bits and pieces of philosophy that can be extracted from the Christian worldview.  It appears to me that there is no such thing as “the Christian philosophy”.
Clearly, these looser questions involving basic categories of philosophical inquiry can be applied to ANY religion or worldview.  These questions do not require that the religion or worldview has a clearly defined set of philosophical theories in these different areas of philosophy.  The questions merely focus attention on parts and aspects of a religion or worldview that are RELEVANT to basic philosophical issues.
 

THE PROBLEM-SOLVING APPROACH

I learned of this approach from an explanation of Buddhism, and from a central teaching of Buddhism: the Four Noble Truths.  In his book The Religions of Man (Harper & Row, 1958), Huston Smith summarizes Buddhism by briefly explaining the Four Noble Truths:
Buddha’s approach to the problem of life in the Four Noble Truths was essentially that of a therapist.  He begins by observing carefully the symptoms which provoke concern.  If everything were going smoothly, so smoothly that we noticed ourselves as little as we notice our digestion when it is normal, there would be nothing to worry  about and we would have to attend no further to our way of life.  But this is not the case.  There is less creativeness, more conflict, and more pain than we feel is right.  These symptoms Buddha summarizes in his First Noble Truth with the declaration that life is dukkha or out of joint.  The next step is diagnosis.  Throwing faith and myth and cult to the winds he asks practically, what is causing these abnormal symptoms?  Where is the seat of the infection?  What is always present when suffering is present and absent when suffering is absent?  The answer is given in the Second Noble Truth; the cause of life’s dislocation is tanha or the drive for private fulfillment.  What, then, of the prognosis?  The Third Noble Truth announces hope; the disease can be cured by overcoming the egoistic drive for separate existence.  This brings us to prescription.  How is this overcoming to be accomplished?  The Fourth Noble Truth provides the answer; the way to the overcoming of self-seeking is through the Eightfold Path.
The Eightfold Path then is a course of treatment.  (p.102-103)
The analogy between medical diagnosis/treatment and the logic of The Four Noble Truths is helpful, not only for understanding the Buddhist worldview, but for understanding any religion or worldview.  Furthermore, the medical analogy can be generalized into the logic of Problem Solving.  Medical diagnosis and treatment is a particular kind of problem solving.  We can thus state the key questions of this way of approaching a religion or worldview in more general terms:

  1. What are the most important human problems?
  2. What is the root cause (or causes) of the most important human problems?
  3. What is the best solution (or solutions) to the root-cause problem (or problems)?
  4. What is the best way to implement the solution (or solutions) to the root-cause problem (or problems)?

One can use these four key questions to analyze and evaluate not only Buddhism and Christianity, but also secular worldviews, like Humanism and Marxism.  So, like the Philosophical Approach, the Problem-Solving Approach is helpful if you want to compare different religions or worldviews, and to make evaluative comparisons (e.g. Does Marxism provide a better account than Buddhism or Christianity of the root cause, or causes, of the most important human problems?)
One summary of the Christian worldview is presented briefly in pamphlets about The Four Spiritual Laws.  While the Four Spiritual Laws might not exactly parallel the logical structure of the Four Noble Truths, they are very similar in that they focus on a root-cause problem (Buddhism: egoistic drive for independent existence. Christianity: sin or human disobedience towards God.), and provide a solution to that problem (Buddhism: overcoming the egoistic drive.  Christianity: atonement for sin through the death and resurrection of Jesus.), and a way of implementing that solution (Buddhism: the way of life described in the Eightfold Path. Christianity: repentance and faith in Jesus as the divine Son of God and savior of humankind).  So, both Buddhism and Christianity can be understood in terms of the four key questions that comprise the Problem-Solving Approach.
 
 

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

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

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

B. Significant Disagreements exist Between Different Religions.

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

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

bookmark_borderSkepticism about Religion – Part 5: Disagreement between Religions

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

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

B. Significant Disagreements exist Between Different Religions.

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

bookmark_borderSkepticism about Religion – Part 4: Religion and Virtue

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

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

1. Religion is NOT the key to Happiness.

2. Religion is NOT the key to Virtue.

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

An Obvious Failure of Religion to Promote Virtue

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

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

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

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

Aug. 14, 2018

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

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

The Most Religious States Tend to Have the Most Crime

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

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

The Least Religious States Tend to Have the Least Crime

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

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

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

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

Empirical Studies of the Relationship Between Religion and Crime

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

bookmark_borderSkepticism about Religion – Part 3: More Caveats and Qualifications

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

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

1. Religion is NOT the key to Happiness.

2. Religion is NOT the key to Virtue.

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

MORE CAVEATS & QUALIFICATIONS ABOUT

THE CORRELATION BETWEEN RELIGION & HAPPINESS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

bookmark_borderSkepticism about Religion – Part 2: Caveats and Qualifications

DOES RELIGION HAVE A POSITIVE CORRELATION WITH HAPPINESS?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

bookmark_borderA Case for Atheism: Skepticism about Religion – Part 1

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

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

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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.

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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.