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While we are on the subject of atheists …

A subject I’d like to soon leave, but they have dominated the news all week, and today’s slice of time is the regularly scheduled slot for religions. That includes Darwinism, some of whose adherents appear to be engaged in a near riot over a banknote.

Over at the The Telegraph, novelist, journalist, and travel writer Sean Thomas asks, “Are atheists mentally ill?”:

Let’s dispense with the crude metric of IQ and look at the actual lives led by atheists, and believers, and see how they measure up. In other words: let’s see who is living more intelligently.

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

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

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

All this and more has been wll-known for some time, and it is a key reason that hospitals make chaplaincy services available.

I don’t believe it is true, as Thomas suggests, that the human being is “hardwired for religion.”

Rather, the human being has a reasoning brain, capable of abstraction, and can therefore ask such questions as “If I do wrong, and get away with it, does it really matter, as long as I still feel good about myself? Or is there another, higher law that my conscience warns me of?”

“Evolution” does not produce this effect. Unless, of course, one means by “evolution” only that humans have the mental ability to follow such reasoning but there were once prehumans who did not. Well, if so, they don’t really figure in what we are talking about here.

Hat tip: Stephanie West Allen at Brains on Purpose

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12 Responses to While we are on the subject of atheists …

  1. Faith in a caring God seems to be like laughter, which has, I believe, also been found to be beneficial to the body’s health. There is, of course, the Christian connection with joy.

    But perhaps the closest to faith in the extraordinary scope of its corporeal and spiritual benefits, is water. No wonder it is one of the prime symbols of the Holy Spirit.

  2. “I don’t believe it is true, as Thomas suggests, that the human being is “hardwired for religion.”

    I’m currently reading a book with that very thesis: that religion is hardwired into the brain’s biochemistry. It’s called Why God Won’t Go Away: Brain Science and the Biology of Belief, by Dr. Andrew Newberg and Dr. Eugene D’Aquili

    Dean Hamer, writing in his book The God Gene: How Faith is Hardwired into Our Genes also notes that experiences where people felt “very close to a spiritual force” or have “a sudden religious awakening or insight” were once thought to be signs of incipient psychopathology, but recent research shows that they are actually associated with better adjustment and psychological health in most people (page 5-6).

  3. Very good piece on the topic from the Guardian, here:

    http://www.theguardian.com/com.....f-comments

  4. A critic once wrote that Austen’s characters were like heads carved on cherry pips.

    Still, artifacts fashioned out of cherry pips must surely beat bowls of protein soup left out in dishes in various ‘promising’ locations, I expect, ever hopeful that a bolt of lightning might ‘do the business’.

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

    And even Dennett appears to agree. He thinks natural selection favors inclination toward religion. Mike Gene observes:

    for the purpose of this blog, let us imagine that their thesis is completely valid ““ there is no God and natural selection simply shaped our brains such that we are predisposed to accept the God delusion. Such a reality is a sad place for Dennett and Dawkins.

    According to Dennett and Dawkins, millions of years of evolution have shaped human beings to be religious. If an alien species were to study humans, religious expression and belief would, in essence, be part of the human phenotype. And thus we see the first dimension of Evolution’s cruelty to Dennett and Dawkins. In their quest to rid the world of religion, they have chosen to do battle with human nature. But not only do they struggle against something that evolution has produced, they appear doomed because they are still struggling against evolution.

    ….

    And thus we see Evolution’s Final Act of Cruelty imposed on Dawkins and Dennett. Rather than get distracted by arguing whether they are correct, consider, at least for this moment, what it means if they are correct. Evolution has given Dennett and Dawkins a reality where they do not “fit” – the majority of their fellow species believe in some form a religion. Evolution has shaped the human brain to be religious and evangelistic efforts of Dawkins and Dennett are not going to undo the blind watchmaker’s handiwork – religious circuitry that exists within in our brains. Then comes the ultimate insult. Even if it is possible to “secularize” a population, this appears to be a fleeting, transient transitional phase. The fecundity of a population full of Dennetts and Dawkins plummets and this population finds itself with an inferior fitness compared to a population of Falwells and Robertsons. Evolution itself ensures that the religious mindset will persist. It’s been doing so for millennia.

    And therein may lie the most cruel irony of evolution. While it may make it possible for Richard Dawkins to be intellectually fulfilled, it also means that Dawkins, from an evolutionary perspective, embraces a world view that is maladapted to his biological essence and thus is nothing more than another evolutionary oddity whose lineage is a dead-end.

    http://telicthoughts.com/evolu.....nt-page-1/

  6. For those of us being neither fundamentalists nor antitheists, this is becoming extremely boring.
    This culture war hinders rational conversation from happening.

    Lothars Sohn – Lothar’s son
    http://lotharlorraine.wordpress.com

  7. No, Denyse, “Darwinists” are not “engaged in a near riot over a banknote.” Misogynists are engaged in a horrible campaign of rape threats over a successful campaign to put a female novelist’s face on a bank-note.

    Also, “Darwinists” are not “atheist”. The vast majority of theists I know are “Darwinists”.

    And the finding that people who engage in religious activities have better mental health is not the same as the finding that “atheists” have worse mental health. That is a gross misuse of statistics.

    Take any group of people who engage in some kind of absorbing communal activity, and you will tend to find they have better mental health. This is partly causal, and partly a result. One of the symptoms of many mental illnesses is withdrawal from social activities.

    And yes, there is good evidence that people who are involved in charitable activities are happier than those who do not. But such activities are not the sole province, or even the primary province, of theists. The vast majority of atheists are as public spirited and conscientious as theists in my experience.

    For instance, I just spent a weekend with a group of people, including atheists, who spend their working lives helping people, including the mentally ill, become involved in communal activities like drama and drumming.

    On the other hand, religious delusions often play a part in psychosis.

    Mental illness is complicated, and the reasons people feel driven to help others is not at all confined to belief in god or gods. And belief in god or gods is not always contributory to mental health.

    Lothar’s Sohn is right – “this culture war hinders rational conversation from happening.”

  8. Take any group of people who engage in some kind of absorbing communal activity, and you will tend to find they have better mental health. This is partly causal, and partly a result. One of the symptoms of many mental illnesses is withdrawal from social activities.

    Any data to show that religious activity and any random communal activity produce the same results or are you just guessing? To what levels? What is the discrepancy?

    But such activities are not the sole province, or even the primary province, of theists. The vast majority of atheists are as public spirited and conscientious as theists in my experience.

    Lovely anecdote, but in my experience it is quite the opposite. And should we draw a roster of such organizations I think that you would find support for that claim lacking.

    On the other hand, religious delusions often play a part in psychosis.

    And belief in god or gods is not always contributory to mental health.

    This statement is intellectually dishonest. That would be like saying, “washing one’s hands plays a role in OCD”. The washing of one’s hands is not part of the etiology, merely a fixation for the established disorder.

    Religiosity becomes a target in some psychosis, and a fixation, to be sure, but you appear to be claiming it as an etiology.

  9. TSErik

    Take any group of people who engage in some kind of absorbing communal activity, and you will tend to find they have better mental health. This is partly causal, and partly a result. One of the symptoms of many mental illnesses is withdrawal from social activities.

    Any data to show that religious activity and any random communal activity produce the same results or are you just guessing? To what levels? What is the discrepancy?

    No, but I didn’t claim “the same results”. I simply claimed that communal activity has been shown to promote good mental health. And yes there are studies. I know of studies on communal gardening, for instance, sports, and music. I don’t know of any comparative studies.

    But such activities are not the sole province, or even the primary province, of theists. The vast majority of atheists are as public spirited and conscientious as theists in my experience.

    Lovely anecdote, but in my experience it is quite the opposite. And should we draw a roster of such organizations I think that you would find support for that claim lacking.

    Well, your experience may be primarily of theists. Mine isn’t.

    On the other hand, religious delusions often play a part in psychosis.

    And belief in god or gods is not always contributory to mental health.

    This statement is intellectually dishonest.

    No, it is not.

    That would be like saying, “washing one’s hands plays a role in OCD”. The washing of one’s hands is not part of the etiology, merely a fixation for the established disorder.

    Religiosity becomes a target in some psychosis, and a fixation, to be sure, but you appear to be claiming it as an etiology.

    Read my post again. I said: “religious delusions often play a part in psychosis” which is simply true. Many delusions are of a deity commanding the person to do something. I didn’t claim it “as an aetiology” in psychosis.

    I then wrote: “And belief in god or gods is not always contributory to mental health” which is also true. It would also have been true to state it more strongly: belief in god or gods can contribute to mental illness, particularly depression. I’ve known a number of people for whom relinquishing their belief, particularly in a fundamentalist faith, has been an important step on the road to recovery from deep depression.

  10. No, it is not.

    Yes, it is.

    Well, your experience may be primarily of theists. Mine isn’t.

    No, it hasn’t been.

    I said: “religious delusions often play a part in psychosis” which is simply true. Many delusions are of a deity commanding the person to do something. I didn’t claim it “as an aetiology” in psychosis.

    You are wrong, as your statement implies that without religion said delusions wouldn’t manifest. This is simply not true. Delusions and fixations can occur on any number of subject matter. My analogy to OCD is apt. If one were to remove religion, those who would experience delusions and fixations would still find a target.

    What about those who fixate on their own mental health provider, such as transference? Does that mean the mental health provider is now at fault for providing a subject for the fixation?

    If by “play a part” you mean that religion can become a subject of delusions and fixations, then I agree. But only in as much as music, art, people, can be considered to “play a part”. And if this is, indeed, what you intend then the rest of your post doesn’t make much sense as you are criticizing religion in regards to mental health.

    As such, it appears your conclusions are drawn largely on your own anecdotal bias.

  11. No, it hasn’t been.

    I meant of theists doing good things. Clearly it has been.

    I said: “religious delusions often play a part in psychosis” which is simply true. Many delusions are of a deity commanding the person to do something. I didn’t claim it “as an aetiology” in psychosis.

    You are wrong, as your statement implies that without religion said delusions wouldn’t manifest. This is simply not true. Delusions and fixations can occur on any number of subject matter.

    Yes, I know. I didn’t say otherwise.

    My analogy to OCD is apt. If one were to remove religion, those who would experience delusions and fixations would still find a target.

    I agree. I didn’t say otherwise.

    What about those who fixate on their own mental health provider, such as transference? Does that mean the mental health provider is now at fault for providing a subject for the fixation?

    No, and I didn’t say that religion played a part in psychosis. I said that religious delusions played a part in psychosis. Which they do. In other words, some religious beliefs are delusional.

    If by “play a part” you mean that religion can become a subject of delusions and fixations, then I agree. But only in as much as music, art, people, can be considered to “play a part”.

    You are still misreading my post.

    And if this is, indeed, what you intend then the rest of your post doesn’t make much sense as you are criticizing religion in regards to mental health.

    No, I’m saying that some religious beliefs are delusional. When someone has a delusional religious belief, we call it psychosis. I did not say that religion caused psychosis. I don’t think it does. I do think that religion can contribute to other forms of mental illness, such anxiety and depression.

    As such, it appears your conclusions are drawn largely on your own anecdotal bias.

    No, what I said about psychosis is simply true – there is a vast amount of research literature to support it. Religious delusions are a very common category of delusion in psychosis. I did not say that religion caused delusions, nor that all religious belief is delusional.

    I did however say that religion can contribute to mental illness – but not specifically psychosis. My evidence is indeed anecdotal, but substantial, and concerns depression and anxiety, particularly in people raised in very fundamentalist, “hellfire” religious traditions, or in a group oppressed by that tradition, for example gays, or women. Many religious traditions result in deep self-hatred for some people. There are “recovery” organisations from people trying to become mentally well after being raised in a disabling religious belief system.

    And there is no “bias” in my anecdotes – anecdotes are, by definition, simply facts, not samples. I do not claim that religion is a net promoter of mental health or of mental illness. I merely point out examples of where it has done the latter.

  12. Elizabeth cannot even speak truthfully about her own field.

    Such a shame.

    Religious delusions are a very common category of delusion in psychosis.

    So? Did the delusion bring on the psychosis?

    When someone has a delusional religious belief, we call it psychosis.

    The delusional religious belief is a symptom of psychosis or a cause of psychosis?

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