Bad Science: No, Atheism Does Not Cause Suicide

More innumeracy for today: this religious apologist is claiming atheism causes suicide, and he cites a study that supposedly proves this, but both s/he and the study’s authors suck at numeracy and basic logic. I warned about this before (Innumeracy: A Fault to Fix). This is another example of that.

Just excerpting from the study citation and abstract as reported by this author:

METHOD: Depressed inpatients (N=371) who reported belonging to one specific religion or described themselves as having no religious affiliation were compared in terms of their demographic and clinical characteristics.

RESULTS: Religiously unaffiliated subjects had significantly more lifetime suicide attempts and more first-degree relatives who committed suicide than subjects who endorsed a religious affiliation. Unaffiliated subjects were [also] younger, less often married, less often had children, and had less contact with family members. Furthermore, subjects with no religious affiliation perceived fewer reasons for living, particularly fewer moral objections to suicide. In terms of clinical characteristics, religiously unaffiliated subjects [also] had more lifetime impulsivity, aggression, and past substance use disorder. No differences in the level of subjective and objective depression, hopelessness, or stressful life events were found.

CONCLUSIONS: Religious affiliation is associated with less suicidal behavior in depressed inpatients. After other factors were controlled, it was found that greater moral objections to suicide and lower aggression level in religiously affiliated subjects may function as protective factors against suicide attempts. Further study about the influence of religious affiliation on aggressive behavior and how moral objections can reduce the probability of acting on suicidal thoughts may offer new therapeutic strategies in suicide prevention.

From: Kanita Dervic M.D. et al., “Religious Affiliation and Suicide Attempt,” American Journal of Psychiatry 2004.

There are a number of things wrong with both these scientists’ stated conclusions (and study design) and this religious apologist’s use of it to argue atheism causes suicide. I’ll just focus on a few:

[Read more...]

Learn Philosophy from a Philosopher / Then Cure Cancer

Two big things going on this week:

(1) Learn philosophy from a philosopher. Our own emeritus adjunct professor of philosophy, Daniel Fincke (Ph.D.), is offering courses online in philosophy to anyone who is keen. Details here. You can even make requests to him of what course subjects you’d pay to be taught in. His rate is $16/hour for a 40 hour commitment, and you’ll be part of an interactive online class, taught by an expert professional.

You can still get in on his ongoing evening Ethics course (he is doing a catch-up session for new enrollees tomorrow), or get in on a new run of that course in October or December (mornings, all Eastern Time), or catch his Nietzsche course which starts this Thursday (a must do if you want to know the real deal about Nietzsche, from an actual expert on Nietzsche, instead of naively all the pop nonsense claimed about him), or this Friday start his course on Philosophy for Atheists (that’s right!). He also will offer a history of philosophy course (Enlightenment to Present) in October. For a testimonial to how useful and rewarding these courses are, and for more complete course descriptions and how to sign up, see the latter half of Fincke’s blog post here.

(2) Then go help us cure blood cancers. And make weird things happen. FreethoughtBlogs has a Light the Night Team affiliated with the Foundation Beyond Belief and we’re aiming to raise ten thousand dollars for blood cancer research. We’re in friendly competition with Skepchicks, who are doing the same. I blogged about this charity effort before (see here, here, and here), it’s becoming a major vehicle for getting attention to the fact that atheists actually support secular charities that make a difference. You can donate to the FtB team here.

Our own Greta Christina is an honored hero this year (surviving cancer and working to garner support for research) and she’s submitted to some forfeits and dares if you donate to the FtB team under her name (see My Light the Night Walk Forfeits and Dares for all the details). Our own PZ Myers, Ed Brayton, and Avicenna have done the same (check out those links), but Greta’s are the most amusing.

For more details see: Skepchick Forms “Light the Night Walk” Online Team — The Race Is On!

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. [Read more...]

This Is Atheist Charity

Want to make history? The biggest explicitly atheist charity fund drive is now underway. And you can help make it world news. What do atheists do to solve problems? Pray? F no. We do this thing called science. But science costs money. And here’s where you and history come in. The Foundation Beyond Belief is aiming to break a world record for explicitly pro-atheist group giving by raising (at least!) a million dollars for cancer research. In particular, we’re seeking to improve treatments for blood cancers and the care of patients. This FBB project is in cooperation with the inclusively secular (meaning not godless, just not godist) Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (which aims to eliminate blood cancers and help its victims), and in particular their Light the Night nationwide charity walk.

If you read nothing else linked from this blog, read the FBB Light the Night page, which explains their goals, what the money will do, and how this will make news (if you help make it happen). In fact, they are aiming not only to break a record for atheist charities, but to break a record for the whole Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. The FBB reports that if they succeed, “This would make the FBB team the first team in LLS history to bring in $1,000,000 or more in their first year!” If you prefer to just give money and not actually get out and do stuff, you can just donate now to their online “virtual” team. But they are especially interested in increasing the number of local Light the Night teams formally affiliated with the Foundation Beyond Belief, and above all, to increase their size.

What do Light the Night Teams Do? [Read more...]