Aug 06 2013

Atheism Doesn’t Suck: How Science Does Not Prove Atheists Are Less Happy, Healthy, and Sane

Cooked or misquoted studies are often cited that “show” that religious believers are happier and healthier and less insane than atheists.

“So what?”

“So atheism is bad for you, is what.”

Or so the argument attempts to go.

(Every study anyone has seen like that, please cite it in the comments [I already know about the study salad at Conservapedia, and any sharp bloggers out there who are psych majors could do us a solid by writing a good critique of that]. Likewise, if any blogs or websites have also tackled this myth [even if doing so after I posted this], please cite those articles in comments as well. Plus articles in magazines that discuss it, if you know any. I’d like to gather up a collection.)

Yes, one can reply that the truth is still the truth, and if you care about the truth, you should just deal with it if it sucks, rather than try desperately to live a lie just to be happy. There’s a whole line of debate one can follow down that route, but it generally ends with: bad epistemologies are always a net bad for you (and society), but you can only believe comfortable lies if you commit to a bad epistemology, the side effects of which will never be good for you or society overall–because bad epistemologies cannot protect you from harmful false beliefs (and even entail an increasing resort to harmful false beliefs in order to protect the harmless ones from being exposed).

So just suck it up and get over it. In practice, it’s all not as bad as you think (and it’s certainly better than all this eternal hell business, much less a god who by his total inaction manifestly doesn’t give a shit about anything). And all else being equal, you’ll find plenty to love about life anyway.

But in fact we needn’t take that grim tack anyway. Because the facts don’t support the premise in the first place. Atheism doesn’t make you less happy, healthy, or sane.

One common flaw that invalidates almost all of these studies (if not in fact literally all of them) is that they tend to compare the religiously devout with nonbelievers as a whole, who are statistically mostly people who don’t identify with any nonbelieving community or care much about atheism or humanism or any secularist cause or philosophy, but who just don’t have a specific belief in anything. But that’s a false comparison. The only meaningful comparison would be between the devoutly religious and devoted humanists, including organized atheists, or anyone intellectually committed to godless philosophies.

But no studies do that (so far as I know: please cite any that do in comments). They therefore don’t show the relative benefit of religious belief vs. atheist philosophy.

Let’s take a look.

Atheism and Depression

For example, in a public debate I was in many years ago, my theist opponent cited a study “proving” that atheism leads to depression and therefore was bad for us. When I got home and was able to check that study, I discovered that he’d snowed me (a common tactic theists use in debates: cite, even misquote, an obscure study we can’t rebut because we can’t check what it actually says before the clock runs out). What I found that study really said was not what the theist claimed. Surprise surprise.

To the audience my opponent read the sentence “religious belief [...] was a significant predictor of lower levels of hopelessness and depression,” but he didn’t read the following sentence, that “there was also a small direct positive association of belief with depression.” In other words, fewer nonreligious persons ever get depressed in the first place. The study thus supports what I actually ended up saying in the debate: that only nonbelievers who lack “a cognitive framework for finding meaning in a negative event” are more likely to become depressed at all.

I would revise that statement today to mean remain depressed without treatment at all, since I now know that depression itself is predominately biochemical and thus not actually distributed in the population according to belief or nonbelief. You generally can’t choose to not suffer depression. You can only choose whether and how you treat and manage it. And your belief system and social support system will have a lot to do with that…neither of which needs to be religious. In fact, nonreligious systems are more likely to treat depression scientifically, which means more effectively. At any rate, the study my opponent cited found that you will be in a depressive state less often if you aren’t religious. Which means you are better off being an atheist. As the study concluded, “religious variables added significantly to the prediction of depression and to the prediction of hopelessness.” The exact opposite of what the theist claimed.

The only negative effect the study found for nonbelief was that when atheists were in depressive states, those states tended to be worse. But it also found the same outcome for strong religious belief, which also magnified the severity of depression. More importantly, the study did not distinguish people who were merely nonbelievers from people who have strong philosophical beliefs (e.g. intellectually committed atheists, humanists, naturalists). I suspect if it did, the negative effect of nonbelief would only show for the unreflective nonbelievers, and not the philosophical atheists and humanists.

The authors even acknowledged this defect in their study and called for more discerning instruments for distinguishing different kinds of philosophical framework (including those lacking “belief in a personal god”). As I wrote before, “I know first hand many atheists who have positive world philosophies, which help them cope very well with all manner of tragedies and problems.” No study can tell us anything about the effect of that kind of atheism unless it actually identifies and tracks those kinds of atheists. Keep your eye on any study, see whether it actually is looking at those atheists (us), and not just nonbelievers as an undifferentiated whole.

The authors also admitted that they could not prove the direction of causation, so it may be that it was severe depression that caused their correlated atheism–which would be an unhealthy atheism indeed, not reached by sound intellectual inquiry but mere emotional despair. And most of us are promoting not an atheism of despair, but an atheism of positive humanist values. So how does that kind of atheism correlate with the severity of one’s depression? Inquiring minds want to know. Because that’s the only finding that is actually useful.

There was one study that sort of almost did this, finding that the most religious and the least religious scored the lowest on measures of depression. But its sample size was so small as to render its results more or less useless. But generally, all studies related to this subject demonstrate no increased rate or severity of depression among intellectually devout atheists (such as humanists and other philosophical atheists), and even suggest a reverse correlation in some cases. In other words, not only has no one shown that philosophical atheism is bad for you, what evidence there is suggests it might actually be good for you.

Atheism and Health & Happiness

In tackling the bogus claim that atheism is bad for you on general measures of physical health and overall happiness, recent studies show religiosity in fact probably has no benefits once secular factors are controlled for. Having a social identity and engaging in regular socialization explain all the gains in health and happiness among the religious, and yet organized atheists have both. Again, in studies that purport to show negative effects for nonbelief, philosophically committed atheism is not distinguished from mere apathetic nontheism, even though it is likely to have effects comparable to religion (having belief structures and social networks of similar function).

As Victor Stenger reports:

A systematic review of sixty-nine studies of an initially healthy population showed (p < 0.001) that religiosity/spirituality was associated with lower mortality, but the association was negative for cardiovascular mortality. Furthermore, twenty-two studies of a diseased population showed no such effect (p = 0.19). So all they really found was that people who attend church regularly are healthier than those who don’t, and thus “organizational activity” (e.g., church attendance), and not religious belief, was associated with greater survival, and only in healthy populations. But that isn’t surprising. A lot of people are too sick to go to church. Moreover, none of these studies compared religious believers with philosophical atheists. If the merely apathetic unbelievers are separated from those actively pursuing a self-examined life, the difference from religious believers might vanish completely. The same authors found, for example, that merely having a positive mood and a sense of humor had the same or greater benefit as spirituality on mortality and health for all populations.

In his endnotes, Stenger points out that this review study’s authors even warn that they “found evidence of publication biases” which “indicates that results [like this] should be interpreted with caution.” In other words, they found evidence of an under-reporting of negative outcomes, preferring to publish only when the results make religion look good. Which inflates the evident effect beyond the actual. The studies they aggregated also do not fairly compare more philosophically devoted atheist population groups, but again simply lump all nonbelievers together.

But above all, they only found a correlation between church attendance and mortality benefit (in fact, the variable “religious/spiritual coping” had no results worth tabulating). Moreover, the authors observed that “the protective effect on mortality of Christian church activity or attendance…was quite similar to that of organizational activity in general, suggesting that this effect may not be restricted to Christian faiths alone,” or indeed religion at all. Which is telling because it brings us back to the original point I made about what’s wrong with studies like these:

[A] more recent study similarly found that previous studies showing life satisfaction increases with religious belief were only finding that friendmaking and social networking, not the belief itself, generate the effect: Chaeyoon Lim and Robert Putnam, “Religion, Social Networks, and Life Satisfaction,” American Sociological Review 75, no. 6 (2010): 914-33. Lim and Putnam concluded that “religious belonging, rather than religious meaning, is central to the religion-life satisfaction nexus” (926), which means atheists who feel they belong to a group or movement and participate therein will probably see the same benefits, and given the findings of the Chida study group [whom Stenger cites], this is as likely to be true for health and mortality.

(Quotes from The End of Christianity [ed. John Loftus], pp. 330 and 419, nn. 92-94. The Chida studies are Yoichi Chida, Andrew Steptoe, and Lynda H. Powell, “Religiosity/Spirituality and Mortality,” Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics 78, no. 2 [2009]: 81–90; and Yoichi Chida and Andrew Steptoe, “Positive Psychological Well-Being and Mortality: A Quantitative Review of Prospective Observational Studies,” Psychosomatic Medicine 70, no. 7 [2008]: 741–56. The latter’s finding has been challenged, by arguing that the degree of effect that positive mood has on mortality is very small, but large or small, it still found religiosity had the same degree of effect.)

There is another study often cited, which also illustrates the flaws in using these studies as an argument against atheism…

In Mayo Clinic Proceedings 76, No. 12 (December 2001), pp. 1225-35, we hear of a meta-study where once again correlation with higher mortality was only consistently found for frequency of church attendance, not religious belief (indeed, even whether a person is counted as “highly religious” was solely based on frequency of church attendance). Not only does this run afoul of the confounding discovered by Lim and Putnam (thus eliminating “religion” as in fact the actual variable, and leaving only social activity in general and having any social identity as the true causal factors), but it also runs afoul of the problem Stenger called attention to: sick people die more often but also, by being sick, attend church less often. Thus we expect higher church attendance to correlate with lower mortality even if church attendance isn’t causing that effect. Rather, variables correlated with higher mortality cause lower church attendance.

The same Mayo meta-study also found a positive correlation between Orthodox Judaism and lower rates of cardiovascular disease, but this far more likely has a genetic explanation (as Orthodox Jews are more racially insular than secular Jews) if not dietary or environmental (as Orthodox Jews tend to eat different diets and live and work in different social and physical environments than secular Jews overall). This can have no bearing on religion in general, much less theism. Because we know that no such effect has been found for any other religion, and in fact the more recent Chida group meta-analysis in 2009 found that religiosity overall actually correlates with higher rates of cardiovascular disease.

(Incidentally, the Mayo study conceals this fact with the cleverly worded sentence “of 16 studies examined in a recent review, 12 found that religious involvement was associated with less cardiovascular disease or cardiovascular mortality,” which conveniently doesn’t tell you the other 4 found the opposite result, and that when in fact a proper meta-analysis is performed on these and other studies, the effect not only disappears, but reverses. Always be skeptical when the number of studies is being compared, and you aren’t being told the size of the studies. Or the confidence levels and intervals, as one study can use very loose standards and another very strict ones, but when an effect is only seen under loose standards but not strict ones, you know the effect probably doesn’t exist.)

The Mayo group located one other study in which, apart from obvious medical variables, “participation in social groups and lack of strength or comfort from religion were the most consistent predictors of death,” but “participation in social groups” doesn’t even refer to religion (the study counted all “participation in social or community groups” as the same) and “religion” was primed and framed to exclude philosophical atheists from being measured. Thus, atheists who took comfort from their philosophical worldview or outlook (e.g. humanism, naturalism, scientism) and who would otherwise have reported receiving “strength and comfort” from it were not measured. So this study was incapable of discovering whether that had the same benefit or not.

Accordingly, “those without any strength and comfort from religion had almost three times the risk of death as those with at least some strength and comfort” does not mean atheists had three times the risk of death, since atheists might take “at least some” strength and comfort from their own belief system, and this study did not test for that (instead, it just tested for religious people who were getting no comfort from their religion). Similarly, “not feeling deeply religious was associated with an increased risk of death,” but this again lumped together people who had no philosophical outlook on life and people who do (only without religion: again, philosophical atheists, humanists, and so on). So this study, like so many others, simply didn’t test the effect of philosophical atheism on mortality. At all. It therefore cannot be used as an argument against it.

I needn’t continue. In these same ways the rest of the Mayo meta-study is multiply-flawed, conflating social activity with religious belief (note the repeated use of the phrase “religious involvement” as the correlating variable), and not even testing the effect of atheist philosophies (like humanism) on the measured outcomes, or philosophically contemplative atheism generally or even just being part of an atheist movement. None of its results therefore can be used as arguments against the equal or (for all we know) greater benefits such active or contemplative forms of atheism might afford in all the same cases.

Thus, when the Mayo authors conclude the only discernible reason religion can have its positive effects, after controlling for the (ultimately secular) variable of social activity and support, is that it “engender[s] positive emotions such as hope, love, contentment, and forgiveness and limit negative emotions such as hostility,” we can immediately conclude that atheist philosophies should therefore, by their own reasoning, be just as efficacious as religion (humanism, for instance, promotes all those same values). So on that account, the Mayo study actually confirms the benefits of organized atheistic humanism. Certainly, none of its results argue otherwise (since they don’t measure it).

Although even their reasoning can be questioned, considering the evident behavior of many religionists is routinely hostile, rarely forgiving or typified by contentment, and more often based around hatred and fear than hope or love (just watch Fox News). If religion does not in fact engender such positive emotional states any more than nonreligion, then the co-variable must be something else, such as the comfort generated by having a social identity (as discovered by Lim and Putnam), which is again something atheists and humanists can share, or the comfort (and healthy behavior) generated by having “a cognitive framework for finding meaning” in life (and in the face of life events), which is again something atheists and humanists can share.


Ultimately, there is no science that shows humanistic or philosophical atheism is bad for you in any way at all. It has no demonstrated negative effects on happiness, health, or sanity. There is science to back the conclusion, however, that embracing a strong social identity and regularly attending community or social events (and being a part of something in general) is good for all three, as is having a good social support network (friends, family, a helpful community) and a self-reflecting cognitive framework for finding meaning (a worldview, a philosophical outlook).

But there is another conclusion to take away from this that I think is even more important: it is scandalous that we are excluded as a demographic from these studies. Religions (even specific denominations) get measured and studied, but organized and philosophical atheism is invisible. We get lumped in with just “everyone else,” a category so broad that in many cases it even includes religious people (such as those reporting “little or no comfort from their religion”), and certainly includes many people who don’t have a strong sense of identity, or a useful worldview, or regular ties to any community outside the home.

Atheists exist now as an identity movement, with networked communities in real space, locally and nationally, and online. We have good cognitive frameworks for finding meaning (e.g., humanism, naturalism, philosophy in general). We even have our own charities and educational institutions. It’s high time someone included us as a distinctive population group when looking for co-variables to human health and happiness.



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  1. 1
    Diana MacPherson

    I should think doing a proper study of this would be pretty difficult especially because atheists do tend to be very broadly distributed and made up of all sorts of people. There would sure need to be one heck of a large sample size to start whittling down in order to correlate the variables you need.

    Thanks for busting the bad techniques of these poor studies!

    1. 1.1
      Richard Carrier

      You’re right on the large sample size, if you want to do a full randomized study, but there have been studies of more than sufficient size; moreover, because we’re now easy to find, one can do population group studies (e.g. the sociological study Atheists: A Groundbreaking Study of America’s Nonbelievers by Hunsberger & Altemeyer is an example of exactly that; the same could be done in health & happiness research). The Mayo report, for example, collated studies that directly compared Orthodox Jews with secular Jews (without waiting for either category to fall out of a randomized sample of the general population).

      (BTW, too, theists also “do tend to be very broadly distributed and made up of all sorts of people,” so that’s not a problem unique to atheists; our small numbers is the greater challenge, but I suspect we outnumber Orthodox Jews in America, or come close at least.)

    2. 1.2
      Diana MacPherson

      I’d even question the Mayo clinic study. Why Orthodox vs secular? Why. Is it Reform vs Secular or Conservative vs secular?

  2. 2
    1. 2.1
      Richard Carrier

      How ironic. I was already compiling a blog post on that issue. So thanks for the link!

    2. 2.2
      Reginald Selkirk

      Paydirt! Have fun digging through all those references.

  3. 3

    I’d also be interested in seeing how any of these studies take into account the negative perception of atheists, and how atheists being generally cognizant of this perception are affected. Maybe being surrounded by more atheists and non-believers is also really good for your mental health if you are an atheist/non-believer.

    You see this being done in several studies that discuss the well-being of children being raised by homosexual couples: they score comparably in most metrics of intelligence and well-being, but depending on their location they can experience some negative results that correspond with negative views of homosexuality in their community.

    Otherwise some of these studies might be saying not much more than “Being in the socially acceptable majority is good for your mental health”, though I’d also be interested in seeing how that measures up to what you might call a “persecution complex” score (for those believers who, while having half the nation agree with them, are sure they are a reviled minority).

    1. 3.1
      Richard Carrier

      These are good points, and I hope any current or future researchers reading this will take them in mind.

  4. 4

    Some remidner about the proposed Religious Trauma Syndrome. It’s not yet officially recognized, but both the symptoms, and the reason look real:


    1. 4.1
      Richard Carrier

      Good point.

      That reminds me to note that some of the studies I discussed in my article actually have a sentence or two acknowledging this, i.e. that there are also documented cases of harmful religious beliefs bad for both mental and physical health and that therefore their results should not be generalized to all religious belief. That’s particularly notable because not specifically isolating those religions (usually sects or subgroups of a religion) for comparison is the same folly as not isolating philosophical atheists for comparison. A reader who is not attentive to that can misuse the results of the study in making an argument (e.g. using it to argue fundamentalism is good for you when the evidence suggests it’s one of the worst).

      You linked to psychologist Dr. Marlene Winell’s site (author of Leaving the Fold) and it’s worth mentioning that she is not alone. Her conclusions are supported by psychologist Dr. Valerie Tarico (author of The Dark Side) and journalist Janet Heimlich (author of Breaking Their Will).

  5. 5

    Some religious practices have beneficial effects: meditation improves self-control, prayer improves memory. Unfortunately for religion there are high-tech solutions superior to what religious practices offer. For example a 7 day neurofeedback session gives results equivalent to 40 years of zen meditations.


    To improve memory you can try SuperMemo etc. For real beneft religious practicess offers there seems to be much better high-tech solution available. And you can still invent new ones! Not to mention that with high-tech you are encouraged to benchmark how it behaves, in order to know what works and how well it works. This allows you to make good choice. When it comes to religion you are most likely prohibited from doing quality control of it, sometimes even thinking about doing quality control of it.

    1. 5.1
      Richard Carrier

      [A] 7 day neurofeedback session gives results equivalent to 40 years of zen meditations.

      I don’t know that I’d trust that claim. I’d need to research it skeptically first. (Especially since the outcome measures must be fuzzy…I’m not sure what 40 years of zen meditations actually does that’s even measurable and not achieved already after a week of zen meditation, but that’s what one would have to look into.)

      But overall, meditation isn’t religious. It’s thus like a religion that bans smoking: it’s not the religion that’s good for you, but the not smoking.

      In that light, though, your point is apt: as I explain in Sense and Goodness without God (IV.2.2.4, “Religion as Medicine,” pp. 270-72), religion is like Traditional Medicine…when you actually apply science to it, you cull out the useless (or even harmful) stuff, extract the stuff that actually works, and concentrate and perfect it, and what you end up with is totally natural and secular.

  6. 6

    I think any participation in a regular social activity is bound to show beneficial effects. Partly because, as you point out, only nominally healthy people can participate in regular social events.

    There’s been some research with regard to the benefits of singing in an organized group (community choruses, etc.) being associated with positive health effects, including longevity. An example:

    Greg Cohen of George Washington University tracked a Senior Singers Chorale in Arlington, Va. The chorale singers’ average age is 80 — the youngest is 65 and the oldest 96. Preliminary data shows the singers suffer less depression, make fewer doctor visits a year, take fewer medications and have increased their other activities.

    — from the Barbershop Harmony Society web site.

    Is it selection bias? Ie, healthier people participate. Or does participation make people healthier? I don’t think it’s possible to say at this point.

    Belief system might be completely irrelevant. A commensal, as it were.

  7. 7
    Reginald Selkirk

    Yes, the studies and conclusions are flawed. But even if there is any remaining trace of truth to them:

    “The fact that a believer is happier than a skeptic is no more to the point than the fact that a drunken man is happier than a sober one.” – George Bernard Shaw

  8. 8
    angst the ontological oddity

    Im the whole of reality appearing as a part, no real seperation,just vibing with this cosmic funk! Even without god it so wonderful my man and horrible too…i fucking love it

  9. 9
    J. Quinton

    Epiphenom is a good blog that reviews a lot of studies on the psychology of belief and nonbelief. For example, religious attendance, but not beliefs, were linked to improved health, a reduction in suicides, and increased marital fidelity. This suggests that it’s having social support networks, and not god belief, that makes people happier. This makes sense, since our brains seem to be wired for fitting into a group. As a matter of fact, high income inequality, loneliness, or feeling out of control seem to increase a person’s religiosity (the idea seems to be that, if people are stressed out, their System 2 is being overly taxed so decisions are made by relying more on System 1, which is “intuition”).

    Another study was done that basically said that atheists are pretty normal as far as depression/happiness goes.

    Things that religions do to foster social support that can be mimicked by secular groups: singing and dancing in synchrony seems to make people happier.

  10. 10
    Lothars Sohn

    What would be really intersting would be a new study not comparing atheists with non-atheists but the numerous groups out there with one another.

    1) reductive materialists
    2) non-reductive materialists
    3) non materialist naturalists
    4) deists
    5) pantheists
    6) conservative Christians
    7) progressive Christians
    8) liberal Christians
    9) conservative muslims
    10) taoists

    and so on and sor forth.

    It might very well be that on average, 1) + 2) + 3) are as happy as 4) +5) + … + 10) . but it could be that 3), 8) and 10) are more happy than 1), for instance.

    I think there is a real need for more research in this area, and I don’t know what the results would be.

    I (and many transhumanists) believe that 1) has clearly depressing consequences.
    But the expectations that most humans would be tortured eternally is certainly far more frightening and horrendous that their anihilation if materialism is true.

    I’m firmly convinced that every worldview has emotionally strengths and weaknesses.

    Lothar Sohn – Lothar’s son


  11. 11

    The most important point to this whole idea (imho) is that “happiness” is always ASSUMED to be the end-all, be-all, of human existence. But I don’t see how that could possibly be the case.

    Here’s how I look at the issue:

    If you (whoever is reading this) were suffering from depression, and a doctor told you that he or she could make you “happy,” but only at the cost of turning you into a mind-controlled idiot robot, would you accept the cure????? Think of all those scifi movies and TV episodes where people get turned into mindless zombies (many of which seem to be to be explicit satires of religion).

    In other words, the choice that religious folks (who use these studies in debates) like to present (without knowing it, of course), is between two mutually exclusive options: having your own mind, or being happy.

    And they use this as an argument FOR religion !!!!!!!!!!!

    I am of course exaggerating a bit to get the point across, but the point still holds imho. How much of your cognitive ability would you sacrifice for “happiness”????? I don’t see how anyone could willingly sacrifice ANY amount of their cognitive ability, for mere “happiness.”

    1. 11.1
      Richard Carrier

      If you mean there are different definitions of life satisfaction and that “happiness” can mean different things that overlap or diverge from life satisfaction, I agree. But there is certainly some core goal, which comes by degrees, that can be defined as satisfaction with life, which is the end-all, be-all of human existence, as without which we wouldn’t want to even bother being alive. This does mean it’s important for studies of differential happiness to not only define what they mean by that but also make clear to the study subject what they mean by that, and how they then measured it.

      Done properly, I am actually certain, in every ceteris paribus comparison, that “life satisfaction” (or “happiness” so defined) will be equal or greater for an atheist than a theist, even after abandoning the supposedly comforting beliefs of theism and embracing the more objectively disheartening facts of reality. I suspect this because of vast quantities of self-report data from ex-theists that already exists evidencing exactly that outcome.

      That doesn’t mean every theism-to-atheism conversion ends well, but that it does when the atheism landed at is philosophically reflective and persistently inquisitive and informed.

  12. 12
    Malcolm S

    A common problem with these studies is the way people are classified as having different belief systems can be fuzzy. Some studies just ask people ‘are you religious?’ This will not cover elements of spirituality and whether religious belief translates into religious behaviour. Also, there is the problem of what people say they believe and what they actually believe. There was a study done that looked at belief in 107 countries (I think) and religious belief rates were fairly high in all but communist countries; where atheism was greater. Maybe it’s just a case of people believing what they think it’s acceptable to believe, but either way, there are clear problems with the definition and measurement of religious belief.

  13. 13

    The fundies I work with seem to have fewer or less effective coping skills (and more dysfunctional family lives) than the atheists I know. It becomes a chicken/egg question: are they poorer at coping BECAUSE they are religious, or did they gravitate to fundie religion because they are poor at coping? A well-structured study would really be interesting.

    1. 13.1
      Richard Carrier

      Note that it could easily be both (some fundies gravitate there because of poor coping skills and resources, while others end up there for other reasons…e.g. being raised in it…and are thereby cut off from learning good coping skills or having access to the resources they would need to end their dependency on religion).

  14. 14

    I note an unfortunate degree if conflation going on here. For example you quote a study in which the religious scored best, the “spiritual but not in a religion” scored worst, and the neither-religious-nor-spiritual ranked slightly below the religious (but much lower in other measures, e.g. substance issues). And yet to refute claims like this, you quote Stenger’s comments about whether “religiosity/spirituality” is good for people. Well which one – spirituality or religion? Their effects aren’t at all the same.

    There’s a certain irony that this sort of thing features in a blog article about other people misusing or misquoting findings.

    1. 14.1
      Richard Carrier

      I don’t know which studies you are referring to. I don’t mention “spiritual but not in a religion” scoring worst at anything.

  15. 15
    Neil Johnson


    Many months ago, in the NYT editorials, there was an article about the benefits of belief & church. I’ve been meaning to track this article down for you, I haven’t gotten to it yet. I recall a female author of this editorial. A number of studies where referenced. Being a skeptic, I doubted the validity of the studies.

    The takeaway I got, people who benefit from belief are the people who benefit from belief. These benefits were observed in both liberal/moderate as well as conservative/evangelical beliefs/church.. Duh!

    There was no mention of the collateral damage to the people who are directly harmed by belief (e.g. gay teens in a evangelical church).

  16. 16
    Barb Noon


    This was just posted the other day. It looks like they are trying to make a correlation with having religion and being in awe of the universe – or anything.


    1. 16.1
      Richard Carrier

      Indeed, and notice all the stock mistakes they make: a small effect becomes “all atheists” and “all religious believers” respectively; and this false generalization comes from a wholly unremarkable pattern: atheists are slightly less likely to be awed by videotapes…and then merely not being awed by a video on a screen becomes “not being awed by being actually at the Grand Canyon.” Ridiculous. The only useful result they got is that people more easily awed have a slight tendency to be more easily duped into religious belief. But this neither entails that atheists don’t experience awe nor that experiencing awe causes religious belief.

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