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Are atheists more compassionate than religious people?

So there’s another study implying that the most compassionate people also tend to be atheist or barely religious, while the more religious one is, the less compassionate they’re likely to be.  Now I don’t like to reinforce negative stereotypes, but I have also seen studies implying that the more deeply religious someone is, the more likely they are to be violently abusive under-educated chemically-depentant bigoted child molesters calling for the torture and execution of prisoners.  I’ve also seen peer-reviewed articles showing similar patterns with cerebral atrophy in the hippocampus or under-developed pre-frontal lobes.  I could show all these studies if I wanted to take another ten minutes to gather all the links again, but is that really necessary?  What do we really think is the case here?

Comments

  1. smrnda says

    I think part of the lack of compassion is the belief (particularly among Christians) that suffering has some value. If you are a materialist, then suffering is bad, end of story. If suffering can lead to spiritual growth, then the issue isn’t necessarily alleviating suffering but encouraging people who are suffering to see it as an opportunity for spiritual growth.

    Some teachings of Jesus really seem (at least to me) to encourage indifference. Someone beating you down? Turn the other cheek and quit whining. Someone do something really bad to you? Well, you have to forgive them even when they clearly aren’t sorry and will just do it again.

    These critiques mostly apply to Christianity, since I don’t think other religions have the same emphasis, but that would hold for most religious people in the States for sure.

    • douglas1102 says

      “Someone beating you down? Turn the other cheek and quit whining. Someone do something really bad to you? Well, you have to forgive them even when they clearly aren’t sorry and will just do it again.”

      Although I certainly agree that some xians interpret these teachings this way at the same time I think you may be looking at it in the worst possible light.

      I like to use celibacy and birth control as an example, way back in the Dark Ages the lack of birth control and the ease of abandoning children made orphans a serious problem. Having sex and skipping town just to have some child left on a church doorstop isn’t really moral and abstinence could be easily argued a genuine virtue. However… modern xians don’t see the real reasons celibacy was a good thing and now only see [celibacy=good sex without marriage=bad] the morality behind it has been abandoned for achieving moral high ground without actually doing anything at all. Having sex before marriage is not immoral, bringing more orphans into the world is. I think this is where to answer to “why all Christians aren’t bigoted jerks?” may lie.

      • Mike de Fleuriot says

        “Turn the other cheek”

        I remember when I first here this suggestion, I was very young, 4 or 5, and I thought why, they will only hit the other cheek. Guess I was born to be an atheist. (sides, you only turn the other cheek if you have a safe word)

    • says

      “These critiques apply mostly to Christianity….”

      Well, Buddhism (which for some bizarre reason, gets a pass from some prominent, yet deeply problematic, atheists coughsamharriscough) teaches that suffering is an illusion created by desire, and if you rid yourself of desires, you rid yourself of suffering. So I don’t think this is a Christian thing, and if you look at predominantly Buddhist countries, you see a shitload of suffering.

      (Also, whenever some atheist wants to make an exception for Buddhism, probably based on his newbie, Western understanding of Daisetz Suzuki or the Dalai Lama or Zen and the Freakin’ Art of Motorcycle Mainenance, I always suggest Googling “Unit 731,” a uniquely Buddhist experiment in suffering and desire, featuring a cast of Chinese Communists and Communist sympathizers.)

      • douglas1102 says

        Thanks for that… I’m also tired of Westerners giving Buddhism a free pass and you summed it up quite well.

        Harris also made me laugh (cry) when he said the Amish don’t keep him up at night. Maybe he should google Mary Byler, not to mention the entire population is inbred (yup… again see Byler) Imagine there were as many Amish as Muslims?

        Harris is typical of certain ex-religious, floods and creation were too silly for him but his bigotry? That’s of course is purely rational *sarcasm*

      • smrnda says

        I had focused on Christianity just since I’m much more familiar with it. Buddhism has the same nonsense about there being value to suffering or it being an illusion but I don’t know enough to site specific teachings the way I’m familiar with Xtianity, just since I can’t go several days without an attempt to ram it down my throat.

        I’m equally opposed to Stoicism as well, since it makes enduring suffering a virtue. It’s gotta be an easy philosophy to believe in when you are Seneca, and a much harder philosophy to believe in when you are Seneca’s slave.

      • says

        I’m confused. I followed the directions and googled “unit 731.” What I found was information about an Imperial Japanese military program – a particularly abhorrent program to be sure. What did Unit 731 have to do with Buddhism?

  2. says

    This sort of thing does conform with my biases, but I don’t commit to accepting them uncritically. But to discuss plausibility, I can certainly see a causal connection: Highly religious rhetoric tends to emphasize playing tribal favorites with people based on which “side” they’re on in the black-and-white melodrama. Anyone outside the tribe gets demonized, which runs counter to compassion.

  3. douglas1102 says

    What’s the case here? I think an authoritarian religion that offers simple answers riddled with irrationality is attractive to people with those same qualities (especially ones with power) and as you seem to be hinting… that should be damned obvious.

    However… some religious people I’ve known are some of the most compassionate, unfortunately they seem to make up a small minority. (although I would argue these people are in the minority outside of religion as well)

    So what do we do about it? Personally I would like to see more atheists attacking Christians because they’re jerks and not because they believe stupid things. I’d certainly prefer a compassionate and tolerant Christian over a bigoted atheist.

  4. jimmy60 says

    Obviously these people, the ones we non-believers feel empathy towards, are being punished by God. Why feel sorry for someone who has failed in their faith somehow? They probably didn’t pray enough.

  5. Psychopomp Gecko says

    We have recorded proof of this several times over and even a great recent example. Let’s not forget that call into Atheist Experience when we look at something like this. Remember, that Christian who argued morality came from god (or that morality was proof of god, however you want to word it) wanted to let us know that little girl is just as evil as her rapist.

  6. says

    I don’t really think so. I generally believe hat atheists are much the same as everyone else, and are as capable(or incapable) of good or evil. I wonder, though, if atheists that tend toward being more decent human beings are more likely to identify as atheists, while those that are less so are more likely to reject the label out of fear of exposing their depravity.

  7. godlesspanther says

    Extremely religious people have a doctrine-over-person mentality. The religion is always more important than the well-being of people.

  8. lochaber says

    I also think that some more prone to display compassion, or be nice, or whatever, regardless of their religious beliefs/etc.

    I could see the combination of compassion and inquisitiveness driving people away from religion, or at least organized religion (problem of evil, existence of hell, etc.). Especially given a lot of the major media portrayals of religion lately – things like the westboro baptist church, all the religious groups backing prop8 and other same-sex marriage laws, all the anti-women stuff lately, etc.

    I was raised in a moderately religious household (nothing overwhelming, but did have weekly church attendance, sunday school, etc. At a pretty early age, I had issues with the idea of people going to hell for not accepting jesus, especially if they didn’t get the opportunity to – it just seemed grossly unfair. Also the bit about all sins being equal, and none of it matters if you seek forgiveness prior to death, etc.

    Anyways, I sorta believe that some people just happen to be compassionate, and I think it’s the sorta thing that’s acquired through life experience or something – I don’t think it’s something an individual makes a decision about. Some of those compassionate people happen to be atheists. Some happen to be relgious. I could see some of them migrating more towards sects like Quakers, Unitarians, anti-organized relgion, pagan, etc. But I don’t think whatever correlation there may be twixt belief and compassion has a very clear cause.

  9. theignored says

    It’s dangerous to use just one or two studies to make sweeping generalizations about a group of people. I know as I’ve gotten into a fight with a character who did just that.

    Scroll down to where I quote him saying:
    I make the case that the study shows that actual, measurable Atheist empathy is pitifully tiny, with an actual metric of $16.67/month.

    He got that from ONE study, by Barna. In that post, a few sentences later, I link to some other studies where it shows that athiests are more generous.

    The person I was “debating” of course disregarded that, but the point is made.

    I believe it depends more on the individual really as keithroragen implies.

  10. says

    Not sure about the lack of compassion thing but it’s patently obvious that the irreligious make better moral decisions than the religious. I think most everyone would agree that people make better decisions if those decisions are based upon accurate information. Religious people make moral decisions,, either in whole or in part, based upon their religious beliefs. Religious beliefs are, at best, unreliable and, in many cases, are demonstrably false. That’s why religious people can come to the conclusion, for example, that same sex marriage should not be allowed despite the very real and provable harm banning it does to individuals. While both groups may try to apply reason and empathy to their moral decisions, atheists apply these to a much more reliable model of reality and use much more reliable data inputs thereby resulting better, i.e. more moral, decisions.

    Ergo, even when members of both groups are trying to do the “right” thing, religious folks will more fail to do so.

  11. gallussapien says

    I always thought it was kind of…insane…. that so many believers could say that there is a pit of fire where others go and burn forever, while the believer in question would go to a wonderful place and spend eternity in bliss, and that the believer WANTS this to be true, desperately usually. SO desperately that if you say anything that might imply their beliefs are wrong they get furious at you!

    How can anyone ever call themselves empathetic when they find the eternal torture of so many people an acceptable loss so long as they get their eternal bliss?

  12. gallussapien says

    Oh heck I will do two. A lot of christians that I talk to about morality complain that mine is “baseless” and theirs is based on god. When I tell them mine is based on empathy the conversation usually steers towards a revelation that it doesnt matter (to them) the effect an action has on humans it ONLY matters what god thinks of it (as such when god says “Slay them all, show no pity” showing pity becomes a wickedness, and bloodletting a virtue)
    Their morality seems to be hijacked by an authoritarian figure (their book or god, or pastor) so their natural empathy for eachother is overruled by their need to submit to authority. (This comment refers to the christians I often talk to as an example of what the case may be. I am not accusing all christians of this.)

  13. says

    It looks like my last comment didn’t go through, so I’ll try again

    Now this is interesting, first notice the Title ‘Atheists are more compassionate than religious people’

    Odd, because last time I checked atheists can be religious, I’m constantly told this by atheists everytime I bring up North Korea, or Cuba in an argument. (Which I hope this ‘study’ of yours took into consideration) Then there is the debate on whether or not Buddhists who also happen to be atheists are religious, the same Buddhists that believe in Karma, and reincarnation. Buddhism is just one religion, out of many that don’t NECESSARILY envoke a God into their belief system.

    This article I’m about to link is from an ATHEIST by the name of Austin Cline (who was a Regional Director for the Council for Secular Humanism and a former Publicity Coordinator for the Campus Freethought Alliance) and he gives reasons on why the definition of ‘religion’ doesn’t necessarily have to be tied in with God or Gods, or even ‘supernatural’

    He lists this criteria starting with:

    •Belief in supernatural beings (gods)
    •A distinction between sacred and profane objects.
    •Ritual acts focused on sacred objects.
    •A moral code believed to be sanctioned by the gods.
    •Characteristically religious feelings (awe, sense of mystery, sense of guilt, adoration), which tend to be aroused in the presence of sacred objects and during the practice of ritual, and which are connected in idea with the gods.
    •Prayer and other forms of communication with gods.
    •A world view, or a general picture of the world as a whole and the place of the individual therein. This picture contains some specification of an over-all purpose or point of the world and an indication of how the individual fits into it.
    •A more or less total organization of one’s life based on the world view.
    •A social group bound together by the above.

    Then he revises the criteria as follows:

    •Belief in something sacred (for example, gods or other supernatural beings).
    •A distinction between sacred and profane objects.
    •Ritual acts focused on sacred objects.
    •A moral code believed to have a sacred or supernatural basis.
    •Characteristically religious feelings (awe, sense of mystery, sense of guilt, adoration), which tend to be aroused in the presence of sacred objects and during the practice of ritual.
    •Prayer and other forms of communication with the supernatural.
    •A world view, or a general picture of the world as a whole and the place of the individual therein. This picture contains some specification of an over-all purpose or point of the world and an indication of how the individual fits into it.
    •A more or less total organization of one’s life based on the world view.
    •A social group bound together by the above.

    Kline states

    “This definition captures much of what religion is across diverse cultures. It includes sociological, psychological, and historical factors and allows for broader gray areas in the concept of religion. It’s not without flaws, though. The first marker, for example, is about “supernatural beings” and gives “gods” as an example, but thereafter only gods are mentioned. Even the concept of “supernatural beings” is a bit too specific; Mircea Eliade defined religion in reference to a focus on “the sacred” and that is a good replacement for “supernatural beings” because not every religion revolves around the supernatural. (Source below)

    http://atheism.about.com/od/religiondefinition/a/definition.htm

    I agree completely with Kline when he says:

    “Definitions of religion tend to suffer from one of two problems: they are either too narrow and exclude many belief systems which most agree are religious, or they are too vague and ambiguous, suggesting that just about any and everything is a religion.”

    This causes problems for any study, even the link I’m going to use below in an attempt to give an argument in favor of religious people

    Then we have a problem with actual studies we can look at that show how people in more religious states contribute more to charity. Now going to back to the countries that have virtually ALL atheists living inside them, may I ask how one see’s North Korea as being compassionate? This is the usually the part where the atheist fails to bite the bullet, and states ‘eh, but they are religious’ well if that’s the case then the title of this thread is incoherent.

    Now I know Aronra is not a philosopher, religious teacher, nor someone who has the credentials to lecture people on religious studies (we’ve seen how bad he is at discussing Martin Luther (Cf: TheCartesianTheists Youtube Vidoes dissecting AronRa’s ignorance) so I can forgive AronRa’s sloppy linear thinking here regarding topic’s that he is only a layman in, but he needs to ‘define’ what he means by *Religion*

    Depending on that response he needs to advise us whether or not an ‘atheist’ can be ‘religious’

    If no, then what is he to make of North Korea, and other Communist figures

    ty

    • douglas1102 says

      Because your post is so long it’s hard to address all points but I’ll address this one.

      “Now going to back to the countries that have virtually ALL atheists living inside them, may I ask how one see’s North Korea as being compassionate?”

      North Korea is not “virtually all atheist” not even close… and is a terrible example because the Government openly persecutes organized religion which makes polling almost impossible.

      Looking at other communist countries like the USSR, although they are officially an “atheist” state they are far from being an atheist majority (Cuba is an even better example, Catholics are by far the majority), during the time of the USSR the number of religious peoples would have been by far the majority and it’s still that way today, this is exactly why Stalin reopened the churches during WWII

      If we’re really going to discuss this honestly let’s stick to the US for now and then perhaps move on, is that fair?

    • douglas1102 says

      “(we’ve seen how bad he is at discussing Martin Luther (Cf: TheCartesianTheists Youtube Vidoes dissecting AronRa’s ignorance)”

      Personally I like Cartesian Theist and I’m a subscriber but he really only caught him with one misquote regarding Martin Luther and Aron corrected himself, did he not?

      ” but he needs to ‘define’ what he means by *Religion*”

      I agree with that… I propose those in the US that self-identify as being religious and belong to a religious group, is that fair? From there we can move on if you like.

    • douglas1102 says

      And according to those that polled religion by country (Inglhart and Norris 2004 Cambridge)

      This is their conclusion…

      “But aside from these two exceptions (Ireland and Vietnam), the correlation
      between high rates of individual and societal security/well-being and high rates
      of non-belief in God remains strong.”

      Other conclusions go right along those same lines and I can post or link them if you’d like.

      • douglas1102 says

        Here’s the conclusion the ends the paper…

        “High levels of organic atheism are strongly correlated with high levels
        of societal health, such as low poverty rates and strong gender equality. In many
        societies atheism is growing, however, throughout much of the rest of the world
        – particularly among the poorest nations with highest birth rates – atheism is
        barely discernible.”

        Here’s the link, http://www.pitzer.edu/academics/faculty/zuckerman/Ath-Chap-under-7000.pdf

    • says

      Where do you imagine “sloppy thinking”? In earlier videos, and previously in this very forum, I defined ‘religion’ as: A doctrine of ritual traditions, ceremonies, mythology, and associated dogma of a faith-based belief system which posits a posthumous promise, that some element of ‘self’ (be it a soul, consciousness, or memories, etc.) may, in some sense, continue beyond the death of the physical being.

      However if you’ll read the post more carefully, you’ll see that it doesn’t matter how I define religion, does it? Because I will not be guilty of the ‘sloppy thinking’ that you are, I did not simply accept the study at face value. Instead I asked others to comment freely.

      Because of your own sloppy thinking, you didn’t notice that I never mentioned the word, ‘atheist’ in this post either. I have several times defined that too, (someone who is not convinced that any actual deity really exists) and on each of those occasions, I have pointed out that there are atheist religions, (Jedi, Druid, Shaman, Chinese ancestor worship, and some strains of Buddhism). I have said many times that just because you’re atheist doesn’t mean you’re a rational empirical skeptic. But again, it doesn’t matter how I define atheism either, because I’m asking others for their input without positing any assumptions of my own. Now how do you imagine that to be ‘sloppy’?

  14. says

    Oh and here is the link about ‘religious states giving more to charity’

    http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/people-states-religious-give-charity-study-finds-article-1.1140160

    I believe the liberal Huffington Post spoke about this, and that this study wasn’t conducted in countries with a high number of atheists. But instead it uses fake money and poverty videos. Oh and 20 college students on another aspect of this ‘research’, I guess this settles it then.

    Huff Post also has to deal with my questions up above as well, they never state what a ‘religion’ actually is, or the fact that some religions (or what is considered a religion) have no say on the matter regarding God, such as a Buddhist CAN be an atheist, or a Theist.

  15. says

    Well THIS Christian wants to know why ‘nihilism’ is false if a godless universe is true. What then becomes the ultimate goal of humanity? All I see is purposeless conglomerations of matter shifting in the way of A, rather than shifting in the way of B.

    I’ve read everything from Shelly Kagan, Sam Harris, Paul Kurtz, Peter Singer etc and I have yet to find any good reasons that suggests a ‘purpose’ in this ‘pointless, meaningless’ universe other than, because ‘I feel special as a human even if the unconscious universe doesn’t care about whether or not I live or die’. Of course one can ‘pretend’ life is important, but I don’t deny a subjectivist account of value and purpose.

    Every atheist has to deal with NIHILISM, as pretending life has ‘meaning’ and ‘value’ is just emotional wishful thinking. Perhaps one day you and I will discuss this and you can provide me with something ‘rational’ and persuasive, not just ‘well I believe I’m special, therefore I’m special’

    No, you are just matter shifting in the way of A instead of B with no goals other than being food for the worms. With a possibility of morality even being an illusion

    My friend here has done some good work on the subject

    http://jwwartick.com/2011/01/03/atheism-meaningless/

    I’ll leave now with this quote from an intelligent atheist philosopher of the past, perhaps I’ll stop by here more often:

    ‘Being is without reason, without cause, without necessity’

    – Jean Paul Sartre

    ty

  16. douglas1102 says

    “What then becomes the ultimate goal of humanity?”

    Ah… the ol’ “if there’s no creator then logically we must spend the rest of our days in bed withering away or capitalizing on our own selfish needs argument.

    Let’s save that for another day and stick to the OP… the OP isn’t what you propose how we must logically think or act, it’s the way we DO think or act.

  17. says

    @Douglas1102

    That’s it? So in other words you have no argument?

    Also I never said anything about spending days in the bed withering away, so you are attacking a strawman. Obviously one can live a life rebelling against nihilism, what I’m asking for is different.

    Please stick what I’m actually saying, you’ll notice that I admitted to ‘subjective value, and purpose’ existing.

    ty

    • douglas1102 says

      “That’s it? So in other words you have no argument?”

      I never even attempted to make an argument… I said “let’s stick to the OP”

      So it’s you making the straw-man… I’m was being purposely facetious.

      • says

        “That’s it? So in other words you have no argument?”

        “I never even attempted to make an argument”

        You brought this up

        “Ah… the ol’ “if there’s no creator then logically we must spend the rest of our days in bed withering away or capitalizing on our own selfish needs argument.”

        That’s an argument, you are using this statement as a reduction to the absurd, hence you think just because I’m a Theist I hold to that line of thinking, so that’s an argument.

        But as I said before, I admitted to ‘subjective’ value and purpose, so I’m safe and you are attacking a strawman

        • Douglas1102 says

          Oh bullcrap, “having no argument” and “making no argument” are not the same thing are they?

          “That’s an argument, you are using this statement as a reduction to the absurd,”

          No, I was being facetious. You know what that means right? You also must know there’s a big difference between stretching ones argument to ridiculous conclusions and attacking that conclusion and kidding around right?

          “But as I said before, I admitted to ‘subjective’ value and purpose, so I’m safe and you are attacking a strawman”

          You either must not know what facetious means or you’re being purposely dishonest… tell ya what, I’ll give you one point for straw-man even thought that’s clearly not the case. And what would that one point mean? absofriggin’lutely nothing.

          I’ll make the POINT of that comment a little clearer for you, the OP refers to how people DO act and your post makes no reference to that at all.

          • Cornell says

            “No, I was being facetious. You know what that means right? You also must know there’s a big difference between stretching ones argument to ridiculous conclusions and attacking that conclusion and kidding around right?”

            Oh I get it

            Being facetious on the internet where I can’t see, or hear your expressions is kind of pointless. Perhaps you said something irrational, I pointed out, and then you are backpeddaling away. Yep, that’s usually how it goes.

            Though I know it’s hard for atheists in modern times to admit to a mistake whilst debating a Christian, sometimes your better off just ‘biting the bullet’ and conceding. It’s not the end of the world if a Christian exposes a flaw in your argumentation.

            “You either must not know what facetious means or you’re being purposely dishonest… tell ya what, I’ll give you one point for straw-man even thought that’s clearly not the case. And what would that one point mean? absofriggin’lutely nothing”

            Riiiight, and if I didn’t point out your strawman and engaged on your comment, you would have instantly advised me that you were being facetious. Gotcha!

            Just move on brother, it’s ok…everyone makes mistakes!

          • Cornell says

            Oh dear, typo’s

            “I pointed out, and then you are backpeddaling away.”

            I pointed *it* out

            See I messed up

            I also should have said *you’re* in my 2nd paragraph.

            I still don’t think the world is going to end though…

            :)

          • douglas1102 says

            “Though I know it’s hard for atheists in modern times to admit to a mistake whilst debating a Christian, sometimes your better off just ‘biting the bullet’ and conceding. It’s not the end of the world if a Christian exposes a flaw in your argumentation.”

            Actually, I strongly agree with that.

            But I’m afraid that’s not the case. I’m pointing out that it’s a separate argument and one which I’ll honestly say I wouldn’t have much input. I was genuine being facetious and surely you must admit after going back and forth here such an obvious Reductio ad absurdum isn’t really in my character is it?

            So agree to disagree. I already gave you the point score so what more do you want?

        • says

          Lastly, I personally don’t relate ‘spirituality’ with ‘religion’ as the SAME. Some people do, I don’t, though I do think they are very compatible. So I’ll keep going on about ‘well-being’

          If ‘well-being’ is linked with ‘living longer’ which I find to be a good link with each other, then spirituality ‘may’ help people live longer.

          This is from WebMD

          http://www.webmd.com/balance/features/spirituality-may-help-people-live-longer

          We have a study here that states religous people making people happier

          Quote from link below “Research conducted decades ago on Mormons, Seventh Day Adventists, and the Amish “found stunningly lower mortality rates in these religious groups,” Idler says. “Overall, they really are much healthier than the rest of us … In some of them, the mortality rate is 25 percent, 30 percent, or even 50 percent lower, which is really astonishing.”

          These groups were chosen, in part, because they keep extensive genealogical records. They also advocate healthful lifestyles that set them apart from other religious groups as well as the broader public. However, later research with broader groups has found that religious observers generally enjoy happiness and mortality benefits.”

          “Regular and frequent religious attendance does seem to be one of the significant predictors of less stress and more life satisfaction,” says Scott Schieman, a professor of sociology at the University of Toronto.

          http://money.usnews.com/money/personal-finance/articles/2012/04/12/religion-makes-people-happierbut-why

          So I don’t get the part about ‘well-being’ as always I see that nothing has been settled here.

          One more link shows this:

          “There’s evidence, a lot of evidence from many different faiths that people who are actively involved in their religion, in fact, live longer,” said Dr. Gary Fraser of Loma Linda University.

          One study found that those who attended religious services regularly live an average of eight years longer. Some experts suggest that a religious life may reduce stress and bring the comfort of a community.”

          Though it then adds, that this isn’t universally accepted:

          “But not all researchers are convinced it extends life. “There’s no evidence that there’s any medical benefit to religious practices,” said professor Richard Sloan of the Columbia University Medical Center.

          But Jetton doesn’t concern herelf with the debate — she’s too busy. She just renewed her driver’s license for another five years. After all, she needs to be able to get to her daily workouts.”

          http://abcnews.go.com/WNT/LivingLonger/story?id=1242497

          So there is definitely room for a debate here, but I’d like ‘well-being’ to be defined, as well as ‘religion’.

          • says

            douglas1102

            “But I’m afraid that’s not the case. I’m pointing out that it’s a separate argument and one which I’ll honestly say I wouldn’t have much input. I was genuine being facetious and surely you must admit after going back and forth here such an obvious Reductio ad absurdum isn’t really in my character is it?”

            Ok then, I’ll commit to the suggestion that you were being genuinely facetious. You actually seemed pretty sincere IMO as you were addressing my points with respectful disagreement.

            So I’m ok with starting over. This is an interesting discussion, and hopefully we can continue with the brainstorming of ideas. Right now I still think the ‘definitions’ are the most problematic to all these studies.

            ty

  18. says

    Douglas

    My response up above was to this:

    “Ah… the ol’ “if there’s no creator then logically we must spend the rest of our days in bed withering away or capitalizing on our own selfish needs argument.

    Let’s save that for another day and stick to the OP… the OP isn’t what you propose how we must logically think or act, it’s the way we DO think or act.”

    I will now respond to the other comments of yours, I honestly can’t stand this blog layout, though it’s not Aronra’s fault because most layouts are annoying.

    you say “North Korea is not “virtually all atheist” not even close… and is a terrible example because the Government openly persecutes organized religion which makes polling almost impossible”

    Where is the evidence to back that up? You actually answered the question and admitted to a government persecuting organized religion, I guess it’s THEISTS who are in charge of that operation, right? So in the end you concede to the point where North Korea = atheist state as seen here on this link:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/State_atheism

    “Personally I like Cartesian Theist and I’m a subscriber but he really only caught him with one misquote regarding Martin Luther and Aron corrected himself, did he not?”

    Where did he correct himself? I just went to that blog post of AronRa before and noticed that Aronra wasn’t calling Thecartesiantheist out on ‘looking for internet traffic’ The cartesiantheist rightly called Aronra out on an obvious ad-hominem and Aronra just looked like someone who couldn’t ‘bite the bullet’.

    “I agree with that… I propose those in the US that self-identify as being religious and belong to a religious group, is that fair? From there we can move on if you like.”

    Depends where you live in the US, the Bible-Belt is not the same as secular states such as NY. As a New yorker I’m going to see things differently (ie: Atheists mocking Christians) moreso than I would if I lived in the Bible-Belt (Christians mocking Atheists)

    “Looking at other communist countries like the USSR, although they are officially an “atheist” state they are far from being an atheist majority (Cuba is an even better example, Catholics are by far the majority), during the time of the USSR the number of religious peoples would have been by far the majority and it’s still that way today, this is exactly why Stalin reopened the churches during WWII

    If we’re really going to discuss this honestly let’s stick to the US for now and then perhaps move on, is that fair?”

    Again what do we mean by ‘religous’ person then? How do we definie a religious person? And why do ‘atheist-states’ have so many Catholics? If we bring up the US then we need to factor in the ‘Nominal’ Christians that live inside them. You’ll notice that church attendence is much lower than the actual % of so-called Christians in the US. The number is much lower when we go to the % of Americans who say they read the Bible.

    This is why I have a problem with Aronra and everyone else who tries to discuss these situations. We need definitions on what we are addressing, not these ‘vague’ terms. Would you agree?

    you say “And according to those that polled religion by country (Inglhart and Norris 2004 Cambridge)

    This is their conclusion…

    “But aside from these two exceptions (Ireland and Vietnam), the correlation
    between high rates of individual and societal security/well-being and high rates
    of non-belief in God remains strong.”

    But what is the criteria for societal security and well-being? Some countries define well-being differently so this becomes a ‘subjective’ matter. So what is this checklist that defines ‘well-being’? What = the bar to well-being?

    You want me to stick to the US, so I will. Now how could people in the US for one think things are going good when we are in so much ‘debt’, (what is now 16 trillion?) have people shooting up schools and movie theaters, high gas prices, house prices going through the roof etc? Perhaps we have a portion of people who are ‘ignorant’ of the status of the US and aren’t aware of the massive problems going on in the economy? Just ask the 99%

    The problem here is, I don’t agree to terms, because the terms are so ‘vague’

    Anyways, thank you for your respectable response!

    I’m a bit busy this weekend so I’ll come back when I can

    – best

    Cornell

    • douglas1102 says

      “But what is the criteria for societal security and well-being? Some countries define well-being differently so this becomes a ‘subjective’ matter. So what is this checklist that defines ‘well-being’? What = the bar to well-being?”

      I think the link that made the polls offers fair criteria

      “High levels of organic atheism are strongly correlated with high levels
      of societal health, such as low poverty rates and strong gender equality.”

      If you have a problem with that then propose some other criteria.

      “The problem here is, I don’t agree to terms, because the terms are so ‘vague’”

      I can agree with that, but until we specify more I feel the link I provided is the strongest evidence offered so far. The conclusion being that countries that have the most SELF-IDENTIFYING atheists the standard of living is much higher than countries with practically non existent self-identifying atheists with few exceptions.

      “Anyways, thank you for your respectable response!”

      You’re very welcome =)

      • says

        Douglas

        “I think the link that made the polls offers fair criteria”

        Could you ellaborate on why YOU think this is so?

        “If you have a problem with that then propose some other criteria.”

        Again, are they looking at all the countries in the world? Or is the slummy atheist state in North Korea left out? And For the religions that ARE represented in this link below, aren’t necessarily affiliated with a God or Gods.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religion_in_North_Korea

        “I can agree with that, but until we specify more I feel the link I provided is the strongest evidence offered so far. The conclusion being that countries that have the most SELF-IDENTIFYING atheists the standard of living is much higher than countries with practically non existent self-identifying atheists with few exceptions”

        So how many self-identifying atheists live in North Korea?

        “I saw that on Youtube and I can’t remember where, I seem to remember Aron praising his honesty and using him as an ex. of an honest Christian or something along those lines.

        However I really can’t remember and could very well be putting words into Aron’s mouth so I think it may be better to get that info straight from Aron… I could very well be very wrong”

        I’d like to hear this from Aron as well, so await on him.

        “Huh? Do you mean evidence that North Korea persecutes religion? Or do you mean that polls can’t be considered accurate? if it’s the latter I refer you to my link where they make this clear (as if it’s not obvious)”

        No I’m stating that if there is organized religion getting persecuted in a communist country then it is much more likely that those in charge of this operation are Non-Theists.

        “Hmmm… hardly the atheist approach is it??? You think Western atheists would believe that nonsense or even be swayed??? Sounds pretty darned theistic to me, which is right in line with Asian countries tendencies to elevate their leaders to genuine Gods.”

        Where is the mention of an actual Deity with the essential attributes of a God (ie: Omnipotent, Omniscient, etc)? Not a person, Theism entails a ‘creator of the universe’ not a person within the universe. This doesn’t not sound like Theism at all, and if it did label Theists as such then you would have just made the term ‘Theist’ much more vague to the point where the definition of Theist is pointless.

        “Yup… except it obviously isn’t atheist because of choice though is it?

        In countries where people are free to speak and polls actually have VALUE and where people aren’t afraid to speak of what their religion actually is and are free to choose their religion (atheistic principles straight from the enlightenment) atheism is the clear winner.

        Even if North Korea is used as an example, it still would be an exception and you completely gloss over the fact they are not persecuted by atheism so much as a cruel dictator that quashes any opposition be it churches, elections or the media. Freethought atheists and enlightenment values would not be welcomed either.

        Regardless this is about people and not States and even if it were about States Atheism would be the clear winner.”

        This happens in Theistic countries as well! So, If you are going to bring ‘choice’ into the matter then we might as well use that logic on countries that don’t have the ‘choice’ and entail Theism, such as Iran. If this is the case then you are going to have to dismiss “Iran’ and other countries that don’t entail a ‘choice’ off the list. I’m looking for consistency here, so we need to come to a criteria that works both ways.

        If you are going to give a pass to North Korea, then we need to do the same to other theistic nations that work similarly in regards to ‘choice’ and speaking freely.

        I agree though that people aren’t persecuted by an ATHEISM mentality as a motive, however one can still be an atheist and persecute religion, hence anti-Theism. Anti-Theism does indeed have it’s history.

      • says

        “You think Western atheists would believe that nonsense or even be swayed???”

        I don’t know if I made this clear, but I’m speaking about the WHOLE world, not just western civilization.

    • douglas1102 says

      ““Personally I like Cartesian Theist and I’m a subscriber but he really only caught him with one misquote regarding Martin Luther and Aron corrected himself, did he not?”

      Where did he correct himself? I just went to that blog post of AronRa before and noticed that Aronra wasn’t calling Thecartesiantheist out on ‘looking for internet traffic’ The cartesiantheist rightly called Aronra out on an obvious ad-hominem and Aronra just looked like someone who couldn’t ‘bite the bullet’.”

      I saw that on Youtube and I can’t remember where, I seem to remember Aron praising his honesty and using him as an ex. of an honest Christian or something along those lines.

      However I really can’t remember and could very well be putting words into Aron’s mouth so I think it may be better to get that info straight from Aron… I could very well be very wrong.

  19. douglas1102 says

    Could you please keep your posts a little shorter? Pretty please??? I’m going to shorten it a bit for clarity.

    “Government openly persecutes organized religion which makes polling almost impossible”

    Where is the evidence to back that up? You actually answered the question and admitted to a government persecuting organized religion, I guess it’s THEISTS who are in charge of that operation, right? So in the end you concede to the point where North Korea = atheist state as seen here on this link:

    “Where is the evidence to back that up?”

    Huh? Do you mean evidence that North Korea persecutes religion? Or do you mean that polls can’t be considered accurate? if it’s the latter I refer you to my link where they make this clear (as if it’s not obvious)

    “I guess it’s THEISTS who are in charge of that operation, right?”

    Actually I would say that, but that’s mostly just opinion and btw…

    “In keeping with the modern mythologies that pervades North Korea’s version of history it is alleged that Kim Jong-il was born on Mount Paektu at his father’s secret base in 1942 (actual birth was in 1941) and that his birth was heralded by a swallow, caused winter to change to spring, a star to illuminate the sky and double a rainbow spontaneously appeared.”

    Hmmm… hardly the atheist approach is it??? You think Western atheists would believe that nonsense or even be swayed??? Sounds pretty darned theistic to me, which is right in line with Asian countries tendencies to elevate their leaders to genuine Gods.

    ” So in the end you concede to the point where North Korea = atheist state”

    Yup… except it obviously isn’t atheist because of choice though is it?

    In countries where people are free to speak and polls actually have VALUE and where people aren’t afraid to speak of what their religion actually is and are free to choose their religion (atheistic principles straight from the enlightenment) atheism is the clear winner.

    Even if North Korea is used as an example, it still would be an exception and you completely gloss over the fact they are not persecuted by atheism so much as a cruel dictator that quashes any opposition be it churches, elections or the media. Freethought atheists and enlightenment values would not be welcomed either.

    Regardless this is about people and not States and even if it were about States Atheism would be the clear winner.

  20. douglas1102 says

    Btw can anyone halp this nub and tell me where to find info on how to properly quote people so my posts are a little neater? o.o

  21. says

    Honestly, I’d like to see those studies, particularly the one about frontal lobe and hippocampal atrophy. If that study is the one I think it is then atheists also show hippocampal atropthy. I always feel extremely dubious when I hear people referencing studies like this on either side. It seems both sides are happy to misread or misunderstand the actual results of a given study for their respective causes.

    For the record, the study that showed that people with no religious affiliation have significantly greater hippocampal atrophy along with Catholics and born-again Protestants (relative to Protestants who do not identify as born again) is as follows:

    Owen AD, Hayward RD, Koenig HG, Steffens DC, Payne ME (2011) Religious Factors and Hippocampal Atrophy in Late Life. PLoS ONE 6(3): e17006. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0017006

    I genuinely hope that’s not the one you’re talking about Aron because I know you’re better than that. If you’re talking about another study (hopefully), I’d like to check it out.

    • says

      Again the problem relies how are we defining a Catholic and a born-again Protestant? I would think that political stances come into play here as well, so with that being said:

      heavily Legalism? Nominal Christians? Liberal? (ie: Obama) Conservative? (ie: Paul Ryan) Moderate? Independent? (Me) Church going? Non-church going?

      What about those who focus on being Theologians? Bible-Scholars? Christian Philosophers?

      There are too many factors to look at here, and like you said both sides are happy to misread and misunderstand the results, but even the results themselves are suspect.

      Are we taking Christians from the Bible-Belt or Christians from my area up here in the liberal New York? (I’m about 45 mins from NYC)

      Are we taking Catholics who are pro-choice, for gay marriage and evolution *aka* Liberal Catholics like my Governer Cuomo, or conservative Catholics? Or are they all put together, if they are put together wouldn’t we see a different result if we did in fact separate them? Would the result be noticable?

      Definitions are extremely important here, and the study is too vague IMO.

      • says

        That’s not the point. I see a lot of atheists citing this study as if it is doing some kind of comparison between religious people and non-religious people regarding hippocampal atrophy. That is not how those data actually separate. To me, it is another dishonest or ignorant attempt to bolster a philosophical view by distorting the results of a study to suit their needs. No matter which way you cut it or what your criticism (legitimate or otherwise) may be has nothing to do with the fact that this work does not in any way say that religious people have more hippocampal atrophy than non-religious (which is what seems to be claimed so often).

  22. says

    A purpose to life? Biologically, that would be to reproduce. Culturally, it would be to attain greater knowledge of the world and move humanity to a more moral position. Morally, it would be to live the best life that we can.

    After all, a religious person can spend their whole life doing nothing but staying down on their knees praising something they have no evidence for. They believe that after this life is a perfect paradise. This means that this life is inherently less valuable to them. After all, they think they have a better life on the way, so why bother enjoying life when you might get dragged down into sin by a tattoo?

    I liked how Julia Sweeney discussed atheist morality in Letting Go of God. There’s no god. So there’s starving kids in Africa or sick kids in Africa. They need to be helped in this life, because they don’t get some paradise after they die. This is all they get, so we need to do something. People like Hitler? He didn’t get punished after he died (and as a Christian who felt he was doing God’s work, he might be in heaven if the Christian god was real). So we need to stop people like him from ever doing anything like that again, rather than letting them do it and then imagining they’ll get their punishment in an afterlife.

    A universe without a god means life has even greater meaning, because it’s the only one any of us get. If you want a purpose, try making the world a better place for other people, or for future generations. It’s better than the Biblical god’s stated purpose for human life: ………Now, maybe I missed this in the reading of the bible, but I don’t remember it off the top of my head. He just made them either before or after making animals (depending on Genesis 1 or 2) and said either be fruitful and multiply or don’t eat this fruit or you’ll die (again, Genesis 1 or 2).

    As for mentioning that it is possible for atheists to be religious, that is correct. Buddhism, for instance, or any other religion in which there is no deity (I can only think of Buddhism at the moment however). Someone (possibly AronRa) I read or watched in a video made a good case for religions involving the continuation of a person after death. That certainly is something they seem to have in common. In some cases it is an afterlife, in others it is reincarnation, others say you become one with the universe. Either way, it’s the idea that there is a you that exists separate of your body that continues on after your body dies.

    We have no evidence that this is reality in any form.

  23. doublereed says

    I’d say religious people are more likely to believe in ideas that Blame the Victim, like Karma. That seems like a direct link to a lack of compassion.

  24. NotAnAtheist says

    I don’t even know why I’m bothering.. but this kind of got under my skin:


    So there’s another study implying that the most compassionate people also tend to be atheist or barely religious, while the more religious one is, the less compassionate they’re likely to be.

    From the actual link:


    Atheists and agnostics are more driven by compassion to help others than are highly religious people, a new study finds.

    Now I’m quite possibly crazy but:

    “Atheists are more compassionate than religious believers”.

    Is a different statement than:

    “Atheists and agnostics are more driven by compassion when giving than religious believers”.

    That’s just me though.

    Small rant over. Continue having fun believing that religious believers are brain-damaged, uneducated, un-compassionate homophobic ,bigoted, child-abusing, drug abusers.

    • says

      I only paraphrased what the study said, but did not change the meaning at all.

      Regardless what you think I “have fun believing”, do you have any explanation for why these studies and statistics both always seem to consistently portray deeply-religious people as relatively callous, brain-damaged, under-educated, bigoted, addicted, abusive homophobes?

      • NotAnAtheist says


        I only paraphrased what the study said, but did not change the meaning at all.

        I see. So to you:

        Atheists are more compassionate than believers.

        has exactly the same meaning as:

        Atheists act on their compassion more than unbelievers.

        Ok. Noted.


        Regardless what you think I “have fun believing”, do you have any explanation for why these studies and statistics both always seem to consistently portray deeply-religious people as relatively callous, brain-damaged, under-educated, bigoted, addicted, abusive homophobes?

        I think our thought processes are too far apart to have a decent conversation. To you, “Not as influenced by compassion” means “not having compassion”. To me, they are different things.

        So I’m just going to wish you a good day and continue on with my life. Most likely, you will say that I’m dodging the question and that just proves how much more right you are that deeply-religious people are “relatively callous, brain-damaged, under-educated, bigoted, addicted, abusive homophobes”.Or something to that effect at least.

        Fine. Have a good day.

        • says

          You’re focusing only on the title of the study, while I commented on the study itself. Otherwise I have to say that it really does look like you’re dodging the question, and I don’t how I or anyone else could draw any other conclusion from your response -or refusal to reply accordingly.

      • says

        In all seriousness though, would you mind linking the other studies? I don’t know if you read my comment regarding the study about hippocampal atrophy but I would appreciate it if you did. As I said, if that is the study I’m thinking of then it doesn’t actually conclude what you think it does. This kind of material needs careful reading because it’s all to easy to hastily read an abstract and miss conclusions because of preconceptions.

        I hope you appreciate my skepticism of paraphrasing and my desire to investigate sources directly. After all, failing to do so is something we chastise religious people for all the time.

        • says

          I think this is the study you’re asking about.

          http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0017006

          it is a bit confusing because the study purports to assess religious factors correlated with hippocampal atrophy. Religious factors assessed included life-changing religious experiences, spiritual practices, and religious group membership. Significantly greater hippocampal atrophy was observed for participants reporting a life-changing religious experience. Significantly greater hippocampal atrophy was also observed from baseline to final assessment among born-again Protestants, Catholics, and those with no religious affiliation, compared with Protestants not identifying as born-again. Contextually I would have to interpret their reference to ‘no religious affiliation’ as being ‘non-denominational’, since they report a relationship between the atrophy and the level of religiosity. Reporting no religion whatsoever as being more extreme than those who are only culturally religious doesn’t make sense, especially considering the conclusion of the abstract: “The findings of this study indicate that hippocampal atrophy in late life may be uniquely influenced by certain types of religious factors.”

          • says

            You need to go beyond the abstract to get into the meat of the paper. No religious affiliation in this case does not mean “non-denominational” but rather people who are in the category “none” not “other”. If you look at Table 2, you will see the regression analysis correlating religious (and other factors) with hippocampal atrophy. You’ll notice that it’s the “None” group, not the “Other” group, that demonstrates a -0.28 correlation with a p-value of <0.05. Notably, this is even higher atrophy than found in Catholics and every other group except for the baseline religious life changing experience group.

            The authors suggest that the hippocampal atrophy may be related to the stress of being part of a religious minority, not caused by religiosity itself. This makes sense and can possibly explain why the "none" group segregates with other religious groups instead of being on its own. The atrophy does not appear to be caused by religion itself at all.

            Again, the only reason I'm familiar with this study is because I've heard it used to argue that religious people suffer brain damage because of religion which is certainly not in line with the conclusions of the study.

            Do you have info on the other papers you were talking about? I'd like to check them out if you don't mind. I'm ever the skeptical type. :P

  25. Walter says

    The paper says that when doing good, non-believers are motivated more by compassion than are believers. It DOES NOT say that non-believers are more compassionate.

  26. says

    These are the other studies you asked about.

    One of my co-hosts on the Magic Sandwhich Show is a legitimate scientist with a Ph.D. in biology, although he goes by the handle of c0nc0rdance. He sends me interesting articles from the peer-reviewed literature, including some that show amusing correlations between religiosity and brain function. This article for example shows where scientists have identified a biochemical susceptibility to religious influence specifically in the promotion of pro-social behavior. Other people were found to be invulnerable to any religious influence to do good. Other subjects were shown to have the very same biochemical influence toward pro-social behavior according to environmental stimuli other than or apart from religion. I would interpret this as relating to how some of us feel good about being part of nature, rather than wanting to be apart from it.
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22198971

    This study says that Dutch Calvinists and atheists, brought up in the same country and culture and controlled for race, intelligence, sex, and age, differ with respect to the way they attend to and process the global and local features of complex visual stimuli: Calvinists didn’t do as well as atheists, which implies that religious biases can impede cognition and recognition, attention and perception.
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/pmid/21833216/?tool=pubmed

    If I understand this study correctly, experiencing an intimate relationship with God and engaging in religious behavior was associated with increased volume of Reptilian middle temporal cortex. Experiencing fear of God was associated with decreased volume of Limbic precuneus and Limbic orbitofrontal cortex, and a cluster of traits related with pragmatism and doubting God’s existence was associated with increased volume of the Reptilian precuneus.
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/pmid/19784372/?tool=pubmed

    Sam Harris also found relevant links between the brain’s dopamine production and religious experience, belief and behavior. This was suggested by several lines of evidence, including the fact that a variety of clinical conditions related to dopaminergic dysfunction—mania, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), schizophrenia, and temporal-lobe epilepsy—are regularly associated with hyperreligiosity.
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2748718/?tool=pubmed

    C0nc0rdance found it amusing that the same regions of the brain correlated to religiosity are also correlated to schizophrenia. He also showed me this study, which promotes LSD, psilocybin, mescaline, “DMT”and “ecstasy” as “especially potent drivers of religious/spiritual experience”.
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2748718/?tool=pubmed

    • says

      I know who c0nc0rdance is haha. I was actually a guest on the Magic Sandwich Show with you, c0nc0rdance, Thunderf00t and DPR back in late 2010. :P

      This remainder of this week is insanely busy for me but I’m looking forward to looking those over this weekend if I have a chance. I’ll try to get back to you on them sooner rather than later.

      Either way, I wouldn’t cite that hippocampal atrophy study since the conclusions seemed to be more in line with stress from being part of a religious minority (including the “none”s) rather than religion itself.

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