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Christianity &Islam Thomas on 09 Dec 2009 12:37 am

Are we better off without religion?

Great question:

Are we better off without religion?

I’ve long been interested in Paul’s work because it addresses a whole bunch of fascinating questions – why are Americans so religious when the rest of the developed world is increasingly secular? Is religious belief beneficial to societies? does religion make people behave better?

Many believers assume, without question, that it does – even that there can be no morality without religion. They cite George Washington who believed that national morality could not prevail without religions principles, or Dostoevsky’s famous claim (actually words of his fictional character Ivan Karamazov) that “without God all things are permitted”. Then there are Americans defending their country’s peculiarly high levels of popular religious belief and claiming that faith-based charity is better than universal government provision.

Atheists, naturalists and humanists fight back claiming that it’s perfectly possible to be moral without God. Evolutionary psychology reveals the common morality of our species, and the universal values of fairness, kindness, and reciprocity. But who is right? As a scientist I want evidence. What if – against all my own beliefs – it turns out that religious people really do behave better than atheists, and that religious societies are better in important respects than non-religious ones, then I would have cause to rethink some of my ideas.

This is where Gregory Paul and his research come in. I have often quoted his earlier, 2005, research which showed strong positive correlations between nations’ religious belief and levels of murder, teenage pregnancy, drug abuse and other indicators of dysfunction. It seemed to show, at the very least, that being religious does not necessarily make for a better society.

Now there is new research:

The 1st world nations with the highest levels of belief in God, and the greatest religious observance are also the ones with all the signs of societal dysfunction. These correlations are truly stunning. They are not “barely significant” or marginal in any way. Many, such as those between popular religiosity and teenage abortions and STDs have correlation coefficients over 0.9 and the overall correlation with the SSS is 0.7 with the US included and 0.5 without. These are powerful relationships.

Why is America so religious? Because conditions are so terrible:

Americans, he says, suffer appalling stress and anxiety due to the lack of universal health care, the competitive economic environment, and huge income inequalities, and under these conditions belief in a supernatural creator and reliance on religious observance provides relief. By contrast, the middle class majorities of western Europe, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Japan have secure enough lives not to seek help from a supernatural creator.

15 Responses to “Are we better off without religion?”

  1. on 09 Dec 2009 at 7:13 pm 1.Burebista said …

    We are better off without politicians but they are not going any where. We are better off without atheist, but they aren’t going anywhere either.

    LOL, if you think conditions in America are bad try visiting the Sudan. Better yet, move there for a year and then tell us how bad conditions are here in the US. Atheist are such an ungrateful bunch. They are the reason the welfare state continues to multiply.

  2. on 09 Dec 2009 at 8:18 pm 2.chris said …

    I dont know if atheist are the reason welfare is so high, but Ben Franklin siad it best “America is a great country but once half figures out that they can live off the other half we will be in trouble”. Im christian but my friend is atheist. He is a all around good guy, but at the same time he came from a religious home. So its hard to say. We all search for happiness and in doing so we each find that one thing that makes us happy. Weather it be Christ, book , family etc…. And yes a religious family can be better or worse then an atheist family but in the end the out come will be the christian family is a better family, on earth and in heaven.

  3. on 11 Dec 2009 at 7:33 pm 3.Mike said …

    Burebista and Chris: this is exactly what the article is talking about; you simply speak and back up your word with personal feelings or (even more comical) Bible verses. This does not hold up to the standards we have developed in a logic-based, thought-centric society. If you make a claim like “in the end the out come [sic] will be the christian family is a better family, on earth and in heaven” you really must have something to support that claim. Obviously you can produce no evidence for the assertion that there is a heaven, but there would be ways of testing whether or not a “Christian family” is “better” (based on what factors, I ask?) than a non-believing one. I think if you read through the article (understanding that families are the atoms that make up the element of society) you will find that the poorest, most underdeveloped and most problematic states are those with high numbers of believers. Belief in a supernatural being and it’s “divine” text gives one license to commit the gravest atrocities without trepidation or remorse. So when people take advantage of that (and they do: Iran and North Korea come to mind) you have a populace that is willing to be controlled on the basis that it is the will of the divine. I’d say that alone makes a strong case for atheism, or at least doubtful introspection into whatever soul you think you have.

  4. on 11 Dec 2009 at 7:42 pm 4.Mark Greene said …

    Good day, trolls from “above”. I keep seeing ignorance like the above being posted, and can only say that the “faithful” do nothing to put any sort of light on the Christian faith. You merely show your bigotry. I am an Atheist and have a decent, moral family. To say that either we are better off without Atheists or that the “christian family” is better, or to say that the current welfare state is due to Atheism (most people on welfare claim “faith” in religion) is simply foolish and stupid. Once again you justify and strengthen my belief that the religious border being dangerous.

  5. on 11 Dec 2009 at 7:47 pm 5.Burebista said …

    “Burebista and Chris: this is exactly what the article is talking about; you simply speak and back up your word with personal feelings or (even more comical) Bible verses.”

    Uh, um I don’t see a Bible verse in my post. Can you help me out there Mike?

    Atheist are in large part a bunch of whiny children who don’t realize how good they have it in the US. They attempt to rename the US to the United States of the Offended. If they are not whining about a baby in a cradle they are whining about God on our money or a cross at a military cemetery. Can’t you guys find something to keep you busy?

  6. on 11 Dec 2009 at 8:59 pm 6.Severin said …

    “LOL, if you think conditions in America are bad try visiting the Sudan”

    Excellent point!
    Correlations between “saturation” of subject with religion and negative statistics are in USA somwher in the middle between Europe and Sudan. Which confirms that religions are causing more negative behaviour of citizens than secularity. More religion, more problems for a society, and v.v.

  7. on 11 Dec 2009 at 9:07 pm 7.Mike said …

    Burebista, I was simply referring to the high number of believers who cite scripture as fact in otherwise intelligent discussions. Sorry to offend you by means of generalization; you’d never do that to atheists. As for your argument that atheists are whiny children: yes, we do take issue with clearly unconstitutional religious displays, meetings, phrases, etc. I will admit that some of these efforts are taken to an unnecessary extreme, but there are still legitimate legal arguments for most of those cases. We are all very lucky to live in the United States and I don’t think anyone with a brain would deny that; however, it could be so much better. I think it is a universal fact of life that every living thing wishes to better its condition, thus is the case in a society. Sure, we generally have civility, moderately low crime rates and access to things necessary for survival, but why not make sure that ALL people are guaranteed the possibility for a healthy, successful life? Organizations such as the Catholic church stand in the way of these goals with their hate speech and ludicrous ravings (condoms cause AIDS!?). This is only one example of how religious dogma and “tradition” is not simply offensive to atheists (or anyone with the capacity for thought) but indeed is dangerous and should be stopped.

  8. on 11 Dec 2009 at 9:11 pm 8.Severin said …

    “Atheist are such an ungrateful bunch.”

    Should we conclude that atheists are majority of Sudan population?

  9. on 11 Dec 2009 at 9:21 pm 9.Severin said …

    “Atheist are in large part a bunch of whiny children… …or a cross at a military cemetery.”

    Typical! When you shaw them evidences (statistic, for example), this is the only way they can answer! Why use arguments, when you can call names?

  10. on 11 Dec 2009 at 9:25 pm 10.Severin said …

    “…but why not make sure that ALL people are guaranteed the possibility for a healthy, successful life?”

    Be carefull, otherwise somebody could call you a communist! As an “argument”, of course!

  11. on 11 Dec 2009 at 10:48 pm 11.Mike said …

    I’m actually a democratic socialist (EVEN WORSE!), which explains my sinful activities like helping the poor and defending rights of minorities as well as my blind non-belief in mythical beings. What a shame, really.

  12. on 04 Jan 2010 at 10:01 am 12.jocax said …

    The Jocaxian Nothingness is The “Jocaxian Nothingness” (JN) is the “Nothingness” that exists. It is a physical system devoid not only of physical elements and physical laws, but also of rules of any kind. [1]

    In order to understand and intuit JN as an “existent nothingness”, we can mentally build it as follows: we withdraw all the matter, energy and the field they generate from the universe. Then we can withdraw dark energy and dark matter. What is left is something that is not the nonexistent. Let us continue our mental experiment and suppress elements of the universe: now, we withdraw physical laws and spatial dimensions. If we do not forget to withdraw anything, what is left is a JN: an existent nothingness.

    JN is different from the Nothingness we generally think of. The commonly believed nothingness, which we might call “Trivial Nothingness” to distinguish it from the JN, is something from which nothing can arise, that is, the “Trivial Nothing” follows a rule: “Nothing can happen”. Thus, the “Trivial Nothingness”, the nothingness people generally think of when talking about “nothingness”, is not the simpler possible nothingness, it has at least one restriction rule.

    Jocax did not define the JN as something in which nothing exists. Such definition is dubious and contains some contradictions as: “If in the nothingness nothing exists, then, nothingness itself does not exist”. No. First, Jocax defined what it means to exist: “Something exists when its properties are fulfilled within reality”. Therefore, JN has been defined as something that:

    1- Has no physical elements of any kind (particles, energy, space, etc.) 2- Has no laws (mainly the law embedded in “Trivial Nothingness”). Being so, JN could have physically existed. JN is a construction that differs from the “trivial nothingness” since it does not contain the rule “Nothing can happen”. That way, Jocax liberates his JN from semantic paradoxes like: “If it exists, then it does not exist” and claims that this nothingness is SOMETHING that could have existed. That is, JN is the simpler possible physical structure, something like the minimal state of nature. And also the natural candidate for the origin of the universe.

    We must not confuse the definition of the NJ with rules to be followed. It is only the declaration of a state. If nature is in the state defined by conditions 1 and 2 above, we say it is a “Jocaxian-Nothingness”. The state of a system is something that can change, differently from the rule that must be followed by the system (otherwise it would not be a rule). For example, the state “has no physical elements”; it is a state, not a rule because, occasionally this state may change. If it was a rule it could not change (unless another rule eliminated the first one).

    Being free of any elements, JN does not presume the existence of any existing thing but its own and, by the “Occam’s Razor” [2], it must be the simpler state possible of nature, therefore with no need for explanations about its origin. JN, of course, does not currently exist, but may have existed in a distant past. That is, JN would be the universe itself – defined as a set of all existing things – in its minimal state. Thus we can also say the Universe (being a JN) has always existed.

    JN, as well as everything that can be understood by means of logic, must follow the tautology: “it may or may NOT happen”. This tautology – absolute logical truth – as we shall see, has also a semantic value in JN: it allows things to happen (or not).

    We cannot say that events in the JN must necessarily occur. Eventually, it is possible that nothing really happens, that is, JN may continue “indefinitely” (time does not exist in a JN) without changing its initial state and with no occurrences. But there is a possibility that random phenomena can derive from this absolute nothingness. This conclusion comes logically from the analysis of a system without premises: as JN, by definition, does not have laws, it can be shaped as a logical system WITHOUT PREMISES.

    We shall interrupt a little in order to open up an explanatory digression. We are dealing with two types of “Jocaxian-Nothingness”: the physical object named “JN”, which was the universe in its minimal state with the properties described above; and the theory which analyses this object, the JN-Theory. The JN-Theory, the theory about the JN-object (this text), uses logical rules to help us understand the JN-Object. But JN-object itself does not follow logical rules, once there are no laws it must obey. Nevertheless, I do not believe we will let possibilities to JN-object escape if we analyze it according to classic logic. However, we must be aware that this logical analysis (JN-Theory) could maybe limit some potentiality of JN-Object.

    Within a system without premises, we cannot conclude that something cannot happen. There are no laws from which we can draw this conclusion. That is, there is no prohibition for anything to happen. If there is no prohibition for anything to happen, then, eventually, something may happen. That is, the tautological logics remain true in a system without premises: “something happens or not”. If something occasionally happens, this something must not obey rules and, therefore, would be totally random and unpredictable.

    [All of this may sound really weird, and it actually is. But I can put clear evidence that JN is not an absurd: first, go search the following on a search engine on the Internet: “virtual particles” or singular “virtual particle”. Virtual particles occur in our universe as spontaneous creation from the quantum vacuum, from one particle and its anti-particle. Science considers the generation of this pair of particles an event without physical causes, something genuinely random. This is a scientific fact and can be explained by quantum mechanics. Now, let us move a bit from the facts and imagine each one of these particles contains a tiny miniature universe. That way, in this mental experience, we have a clue, a little evidence that the emergence of a universe out of nothing is so out of purpose as we could once believe…]

    We call the first JN randomizations Schizo-Creations. This schizo-creations, once they come from something without laws, are totally random and, if we could watch them, they would seem completely “schizophrenic”. Of course with the first randomizations, JN is no longer the original JN as now it owns something, that is, the JN transforms. Because JN is not limited by any laws, it may eventually also generate laws, to which its elements – now itself – would have to obey.

    Let us show how the random generation of laws can produce a logical universe: suppose laws are generated randomly in a sequence. If a new law is generated and does not conflict with the others, all of them remain undamaged in the set of generated laws. However, if a law that conflicts with other laws previously generated appears, it replaces (kills) the previous laws that are inconsistent with it, since it must be obeyed (until a newer law opposes to it). Thus, in a true “natural selection” of laws, only a little set of laws compatible to each other would last. That answers a fundamental philosophical question about our universe: “Why does the universe follow logical rules?”

    Thereby, the Jocaxian Nothingness is the natural candidate for the origin of the universe, since it is the simpler possible state nature could present: a state of such simplicity there would not be the need to explain its existence. And, by logical consequence of this state, anything could be (or not) randomized, even our physical laws and elementary particles.

  13. on 04 Jan 2010 at 11:30 am 13.Severin said …

    Thank you jocax 12.
    It was interesting and challengin to try to understand this philosophy, and I admit I was not able to, although (or beacause!) I am technically educated (a chemist with university degree, older European generation).
    As I found many sites containing it, I will try again, I promise (althoug I admit that I hated philosophy in the high school, especially Spinosa).

    Maybe this is a good theory, maybe not, but what I love in it is that (if I understood well at least something) it in no way includes evil gods to be worshiped and religions to tell us (usually by force) who/what we are and what should we do with our lives.

  14. on 04 Jan 2010 at 2:27 pm 14.Mike said …


    You have been shown to be a crackpot on more than one occasion and now you come back here to get more?



    I’m not surprised severin fell for the ridiculousness of your arguments but that is about as far as you would get.

  15. on 04 Jan 2010 at 7:49 pm 15.Severin said …

    “LOL, if you think conditions in America are bad try visiting the Sudan.”

    Or try visiting Germany (and compare statistic data about social statuses of nations Germany/USA).

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