Might religion be necessary for the psychological health of some individuals and the sustainment of societal cohesion?

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Discussion by: petermead1

I used to think that religion was generally an unecessary and sometimes harmful thing to individuals and society as a whole. I used to think that the world would generally be better off with an absence of superstitions. Recently, I have begun to seriously question that notion. After a conversation about religion with a friend who was a believer, I begun to speculate on whether atheism would truly be beneficial to society or not because of the implications about death and purpose in life. When you lack belief in a soul like myself, death is finale. There is no afterlife. Without belief in a god, there is no "ultimate" purpose in life. One must develop one's own meaning and purpose in life. It is not simply granted to you from a holy book. To me, this is not troublesome. In fact, I find it exciting and liberating in many ways. There are occasions where I fear the uncertainty that is death, but I know that this fear is irrational because there is literally nothing to fear. Death is not an experience. It is the absence of experience. Therefore, there is no experience to be afraid of. However, I know that for many individuals, this entire idea is simply psychologically unacceptable. Many cannot tolerate the idea that life is finite, that they will never see deceased loved ones again or that the universe ultimately has no meaning or purpose. For some, religion may be necessary to maintain good mental health. Could I be wrong? Are there any studies that may have been done on such a topic?

61 COMMENTS

  1. I recently attended a funeral service and sat there thinking how this belief will be incredibly difficult to dispute. A room full of sad, vulnerable people gathered together with deep feelings that run to the core of their being, I could feel the strength of their emotions. It is during these times that religions have their greatest holds onto people. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be any purely secular service that seems to match – at least not now. Perhaps they are just few and far between. The challenge is to separate the memories, tributes, and other farewells from the religious views.

    Here is the thing – the idea of an afterlife was planted by someone else. If any mental distress results, it is due to the rug being pulled out from under them after someone sat them on it. No one wants to see anyone going through life smoking pot every minute of the day. Most of these people are not continuously thinking about the afterlife, yet they build their life upon it. Distress only occurs if the person is unwilling or reluctant to admit their thinking was flawed. Even their own religion speaks about the need to accept change, see the error of their ways and continue on.

    I’m not aware of any studies, but there are some studies of how people react to learning factual information after they held incorrect views for long periods of time. (Generally, they go into denial and dig their heels in deeper. )

    • In reply to #2 by QuestioningKat:
      I saw a peculiar documentary called My life as a Turkey about a man who deliberately imprinted some wild turkey chicks. The movie showed the turkeys “mourning” the dead, and reverently moving the bones of dead animals of other species, like elephants. The other remarkable thing the turkeys have is a language with calls for all the predator species, including snakes. This is hard wired, as is a knowledge of which snakes are venomous and strategies to deal with various predators. They have other calls for maintaining the flock and dealing with getting lost.

    • In reply to #2 by QuestioningKat:
      The most moving death ceremony I attended was when my friend David Lewis took his life because he had had enough with AIDS. He played Louis Armstrong’s What a Wonderful World. If you are pretending this is just a temporary goodbye, that takes the dignity out of it. This is just a social pretence, not a true belief.

      I feel a disgust when I attend the funerals of people who had never pressed their Christianity on me, and there is all this Christian treacle poured on the audience. The preachers push the limits of plausibility even more than they do at weekly sermons.

      • In reply to #7 by Roedy:

        In reply to #2 by QuestioningKat:
        I feel a disgust when I attend the funerals of people who had never pressed their Christianity on me, and there is all this Christian treacle poured on the audience. The preachers push the limits of plausibility even more than they do at weekly sermons.

        I strongly agree. Indeed, it struck me even at a believer’s funeral I attended recently that the service seemed to be dominated by a facile denial of reality – i.e. the deceased wasn’t really dead at all and they would all meet up in the end. I can see that myths might take some of the initial sting of death away, but in the real world reality rules – as the bereaved usually discover all too soon.

        Frankly, while I disagree with a lot of Marx, he was right about religion. How different is telling someone their loved one is ‘waiting for them by a crystal sea’ (or wherever) to giving them a ‘bag’ and needle to shoot up?

  2. This is it. Life is no dress rehearsal, no second chances. You will die one day whatever. Just be happy to be alive now and make the most of it. As Richard puts it: “What more do you want?”

    We are indeed the lucky ones.

  3. You could similarly ask, are deluded people who think they are Napoleon happier if everyone indulges their fantasy?

    A society should try to have as few delusional people in it as possible. Every one operating from falsehood will harm the overall optimum functioning of the society and of course create friction with their bizarre unsupportable beliefs (especially if they band into groups to assassinate non-believers).

    My dad described some Christians who were into submitting to God’s will. If they got a cut, they imagined it was god’s doing, and they revelled in it as an act of god. He felt they were nuts, but unusually happy because of their acceptance of adversity. Such people you don’t want running your public works such as airlines and damns.

    Ignoring religion is like ignoring errors in text books. It is a hassle to try to get the errors out, but if you don’t respect truth, you will end up in a society like medieval Europe run by superestition.

    • But who are you to decide which are delusional?
      In reply to #4 by Roedy:

      You could similarly ask, are deluded people who think they are Napoleon happier if everyone indulges their fantasy?

      A society should try to have as few delusional people in it as possible. Every one operating from falsehood will harm the overall optimum functioning of the society and of course crea…

  4. I’m fairly confident that the majority of Chinese people do not hold out for an afterlife. As it’s not a nation of terminally depressed citizens, I guess it’s quite possible to live your life without this notion. Most of those living in the Scandinavian countries are atheists as well. Their societies seem to top any lists showing social advancement.

    • In reply to #5 by Nitya:

      I’m fairly confident that the majority of Chinese people do not hold out for an afterlife.

      The afterlife for the majority is eternal torment. The afterlife for the rest is eternal boredom and restriction. If I seriously believed in an afterlife, with no way to opt out, not even suicide, I would feel like a rat trapped in corner. It would be horrible.

      At least, for me, as a non-believer in afterlife, no matter how bad things get, I know there is the option of suicide. I am not trapped. I am choosing to suffer.

    • In reply to #5 by Nitya:

      I’m fairly confident that the majority of Chinese people do not hold out for an afterlife. As it’s not a nation of terminally depressed citizens, I guess it’s quite possible to live your life without this notion. Most of those living in the Scandinavian countries are atheists as well. Their societie…

      Indeed
      Point well made

  5. Lately, I have started to see religion’s necessity to developing human culture as analogous to the need for baby diapers (nappies to you across the pond). These are very useful in development when you have not yet mastered the world view and self control to take charge of the physical events of life. At some point, most of us grow out of this need and can then reason what must be done and how to do it (although, deterioration later in life might bring on a return to both religion and protective garments). The important point is that no amount of case history of benefit of religion to our species or cultural development means that religion continues to be “needed” today, any more than pointing out how valuable diapers were to your early life means you continue to need them today.

    • What about Francis Collins, a top scientist?
      In reply to #8 by Quine:

      Lately, I have started to see religion’s necessity to developing human culture as analogous to the need for baby diapers (nappies to you across the pond). These are very useful in development when you have not yet mastered the world view and self control to take charge of the physical events of life…

  6. Change the word ‘necessary’ to ‘useful’ and you’re onto something.

    Consider the fact that there is not a widespread, socially-accepted institution dedicated to providing a venue and comforting words for marking life events, weekly meetings affirming positive social values and actions, and education on the nature of reality. Unless it is based around Iron-age mythology, of course. This is what people need, not the lies, the social structures are so powerful that religious people receive a wealth of mental and physical health benefits, ignoring the fact that they are wrong leaves one in a position to appreciate on average just how much better their day-to-day lives are than the norm.

    Googling ‘religious benefits’ brings up lots of stuff to delve into, here is one (somewhat dubiously-named) website weighing in with a list of studies on the subject: http://www.sciencemeetsreligion.org/blog/2013/04/are-there-benefits-to-religious-belief-and-participation/

    My thinking is that the doctrine isn’t the source of the benefits, though I don’t think there has been any studies backing that claim up, it doesn’t seem reasonable to think that believing falsehoods about the nature of reality should reliably result in health benefits, though fantastically strong social cohesion should definitely do that.

    • In reply to #10 by utopia:

      Change the word ‘necessary’ to ‘useful’ and you’re onto something.

      When someone starts talking to me about “religious benefits” I always stop him or her, right there, and ask: “Compared to what?” Usually it is compared to some idea they have of what would have happened without religion, but this contrafactual is rarely defensible. Those non-religious countries that have been able to develop strong social systems tend to put this canard to rest. Also, many of us value what is true over what seems good or useful at the moment. There is no way to project what believing in superstition (together with the necessary suppression of inquiry re reality) is going to do to future generations (take depending on divine intervention to fix climate change, for example, and the suppression of science education we now see in Texas). Perhaps sticking to what can be shown (by objective evidence) to be true may also lead to something bad in the future, but history is full of cases where group delusion collapses with catastrophic results.

  7. My kids have never believed they will somehow live forever. Its not an idea they were given in the class of true things as opposed to the class of fun or weird stories. No idiot preached at them. Not for a moment have they registered any angst about a permanent non existence. Nothing. Childhoods nearing complete.

    Don’t make stupid promises and all you’ll be left with is a healthy fear of pain and discomfort and a passion to get out and live some.

    Be warned, you need to be pretty fearless yourself to get this to work fully. I was a little less successful about spiders. My acting let me down a little there.

    • And of course if you are wrong, your children die. Perhaps that could be seen as child cruelty? Who knows. One would think that believing and being good is not that wrong, unless you want to make a caricature out of believe or live somewhere where they already do that for you
      In reply to #11 by phil rimmer:

      My kids have never believed they will somehow live forever. Its not an idea they were given in the class of true things as opposed to the class of fun or weird stories. No idiot preached at them. Not for a moment have they registered any angst about a permanent non existence. Nothing. Childhoods ne…

  8. Hi Petermead1,

    Fair question, but what happens if their faith is rocked, on what foundation of reality have they based their life? The real harm is that it hides reality which will eventually confront them. To hold onto their beliefs in-spite of how ridiculous they are causes mental gymnastics that puts them at real risk of mental illness, and potentially harms others. Look at Catholic Priests, who taken at 12 into the seminary are never allowed to develop their sexuality in a healthy way, living at best lonely lives at worst become abusive either sexually or physically or both. The guilt and fear of a real hell felt by many faiths. In economic terms what is the cost to the West that so many are lost to science because of say creationism? You may be right in asserting that the true believers may be harmed by the bandage being pulled off too quickly, however this is only more reason (if true) to ensure they are not indoctrinated in the first place. Or not allowed to indoctrinate others without challenge.

  9. Yes.

    For some they are in dire , hopless situations , precipitated by health problems, poverty. Circumstances of gross injustice, etc.

    For others it’s also a fear of staticness and stagnation. I personally have a thirst for knowledge so thats how i fend off my ultimate faith , i am naturally curious about natural phenomenon and human psychology, thats how i get my kicks. Others however are much more task oriented, motivated by physical tasks, relationships, ego centric behaviour. To me thats fleeting , and if a person puts all their eggs in those baskets they are bound to be disappointed. Don’t get me wrong i like a bit of ego stroking. Who dosn’t but i do admit i self insulate a bit so when the hard times come , i won’t be too indignant by it’s audacity. :)

  10. In an extremely overpopulated world, we do not need to pander to the tender feelings of individuals who can not live without fairies and the like. Remember its these individuals who demand the unconditional right to breed unhampered and expect society to provide for their offspring. I recently watched a uTube post encouraging non-muslims to up their fertility rate to compete with the 8+ rate of the muslim world to save western culture. This is wrong. We need to lower world population to less than 2G for a sustainable planet. Bio-diversity is what makes our planet habitable.

  11. I can’t see how religion can result in good mental health. The Bible and other religious scriptures teach that the majority of humanity will end up in hell forever. Therefore religious people tend to stress a lot about everything they do in life in case they offend their god. A few even believe they will end up in paradise by flying planes into buildings.

    Even if you were to be among the few to be “saved”, would you really want to be spend eternity worshipping a God who sent most of your relatives and friends to hell? None of this promotes good mental health.

  12. “… Death is not an experience. It is the absence of experience. Therefore, there is no experience to be afraid of. However, I know that for many individuals, this entire idea is simply psychologically unacceptable.” (emphasis mine)

    Of course one can be, and should try to be, nice about this, but, basically, the appropriate response to such people boils down to this: Diddums.

  13. OP. . . . For some, religion may be necessary to maintain good mental health. Could I be wrong?

    To broaden my knowledge in the area of ‘knowing the enemy’ I bought last week for only $5 ‘A Brief History of the Crusades.’ It is a gruesome look at the way of life over ~1000 years of monotheistic manipulation, hatred and warfare, with the commoners used and abused by power-mongers of all stripes, in the name of their god(s), costing the lives of many millions and uncountable wastage of resources and wealth.

    I don’t think that anyone alive in those times was maintaining ‘good mental health’ in any form, and if theists these days can find ways to be mentally healthy, it’s because their religions have been pushed back and watered down by education and the enlightenment of humanity.

    The kind of and level of fear that was normal in the Dark Ages, when Roman, Orthodox and Protestant Christianity plus Sunni and Shi’a Islam were really in control, is still common in modern theocracies.

    All are historically sworn enemies of each other, and none of them with any evidence, so anything was able to be “TRUTH” at any convenient time, which the commoners were then vaguely informed about by the ‘Authorities’….

    Living under a theocracy, even I would hope for a heaven to escape to, since this life would be a bloody, restricted, fear-filled hell 24-7 racked by illiteracy, ignorance, sins, thought-crimes and tithes – not exactly what the doctor ordered for peace of mind….

    Religious folk – especially in ‘secularized’ first-world countries – don’t understand what their faith and dogmas really dictate, and those that do can’t be mentally-sound or deeply contented, at least compared to us freethinkers more familiar with reality, despite us being ‘immoral, amoral, nihilistic, evolved apes with nothing to live for’…. Mac.

  14. If religious belief, especially in a life after death, motivates people to do good (i.e. behave in an ethical way based upon human happiness and suffering) in this life, one might argue that religion has a positive effect, even if that motivation is for the wrong reason. But I do not think there is evidence for such an effect. On the contrary, there seems to be evidence for the reverse effect. Religious belief seems to enhance cruelty. On the other hand one might argue that not believing in an afterlife and all that, may focus peoples attention on the present day with all its and injustice and motivates them to act against it. Arguments like “you have to suffer now to obtain a better life after you die” would no longer be accepted as valid.

  15. It may be true that religion has had some benefit (evenif weighed against an equal or greater detriment) to society in the past.

    It may be true that some people are unable to cope with an atheistic view of life or lack of an afterlife.

    I cannot however see that religious beliefs could be proposed as being beneficial. This to me is akin with stating that heroin addicts require heroin. It’s ok for me, I can live without it, I’m not addicted, but it’s beneficial to those who are… really?

    If there are people who cannot cope without religion, the problem is not the risk of losing religion, the problem is their dependency. It’s not an unresolvable condition, but it is difficult to help those who don’t want the help.

    Heroin may be a bit of an extreme example, not all religion is that detrimental, for most perhaps it’s like a caffein addiction, but the more extreme religious views, such as those who would rather pray their childs cancer away than take them to hospital…

  16. Religion is like cigarettes in this position; It may be comforting to the individual in that particular moment but ultimately it’s destructive and corrupting.

    Personally I’d recommend people stay as far away as they can for their mental health.

  17. the answer is NO, the biggest loudest resounding NO that you could ever possibly think of. The reason for this answer is thus.

    Religion can not be a successful alternative to modern health care based on scientific method, whether it be mental health care or obstetric care, any form of health care.

    My mother has schizophrenia, anyone who has ever extensively experienced what it is like to see a family member, (in this case my mother), suffer from schizophrenia will tell you that it is a persons worst nightmare.

    As a result of one of my mothers schizophrenic episodes she somehow came into contact with the catholic church.At this time she had recently come into $40 000 from a divorce settlement with my father.

    My mother has the kind of schizophrenia that only 30% of suffers have, the kind where she has it so severely that she does not realize she is ill, she can not see that her delusions are false and can not distinguish between reality and her delusions.

    For instance she has diabetes and believes that she only has diabetes and does not suffer from schizophrenia even though, (NOW) she receives treatment from a psychiatrist and has a state order imposed upon her to do so.

    Whilst she was attending this church she had a ceremony inside the church where she literally believed she was getting married to god.

    She gave almost all of her money to the catholic church by way of donations and they took it from her and even after I warned them, (the bishop) several times that she is mentally ill and not in control of the decisions she makes. I implored the church time after time to work with me to get her the help that she needs from a medical professional, they claimed there was nothing wrong with her and encouraged her delusional state.

    When I was finally able to have her committed to a hospital and receive REAL medical treatment for her illness I had to go back to the place she was staying in and collect her belongings.

    She had been sharing, (paying rent in a sublet) to a woman who was elderly and a part of the church who mum was also caring for.

    The people from the church were at the home and abused me for having my mother committed to the hospital for treatment. I asked them what their solution would be to deal with her mental health issues and to treat them.

    Their answer to this question was, “JESUS WILL HEAL YOUR MOTHER”.

    I despise the catholic church and feel that their actions were CRIMINAL because of they attributed to the NEGLECT of my mother and STOLE her money, the only money that she was ever likely to have because she can not work which should have been managed by a state trustee.

    • In reply to #25 by Vikranersciel:

      the answer is NO, the biggest loudest resounding NO that you could ever possibly think of. The reason for this answer is thus. Religion can not be a successful alternative to modern health care based on scientific method, whether it be mental health care or obstetric care, any form of health care.

      Except that wasn’t the question. The question wasn’t “can religion substitute for psychology or competent mental healthcare professionals?” I agree with you the answer to that is clearly no.

      However, the actual question was: “Might religion be necessary for the psychological health of some individuals and the sustainment of societal cohesion? “

      Just to be clear, I think the answer is probably not. But I wouldn’t claim that I have a definitive answer. I would say that our understanding of religion is so incomplete that it’s irresponsible for anyone claiming to look at this scientifically to claim there is a definitive answer at this point.

      And the fact that the OP asked if it might be true for some people is critical. It’s clearly not true for all people. I’ve been an atheist since I was a kid and although my therapist would tell you that at times I’m hardly a model for well adjusted there definitely have been long periods of time when I was happy.

      But even from my little experience working in mental health I’ve seen lots of people who get an immense amount of comfort from religion. A lot of people I respect will tell you you can’t really quit substance abuse until you embrace a higher power. I think that’s debatable, not necessarily true for everyone, but clearly a lot of people think it’s true and the AA and NA approaches have been a lot more successful than most other mental health approaches. (Not because AA and NA work so well but because the others are so bad).

      And that’s just one area, I’ve seen others where people who got no comfort from any other approach were only happy by finding religion. So I think it would be irresponsible to just rule out religion as possible requirement for some people. I don’t think so but I want to see more evidence and better theories that explain why religion is so prevalent across virtually all known human cultures going back as far as we can go.

      And just to be clear, saying that some people might need religion in no way implies that the supernatural claims of any religion are true.

      • Except that wasn’t the question. The question wasn’t “can religion substitute for psychology or competent mental healthcare >professionals?” I agree with you the answer to that is clearly no.

        However, the actual question was: “Might religion be necessary for the psychological health of some individuals and the sustainment of >societal cohesion?”

        Excellent point. Most of the folks in this discussion will be Dawkins Defenders, so will have the bias against religion serving any positive function. However, the evidence suggests otherwise.

        (excerpted from http://rainmac.users.sonic.net/darwin/10prayer.html)
        “Harold G. Koenig, M.D., author of The Healing Power of Faith, testified to the U.S. Congressional Subcommittee on Research and Science Education about religion, spirituality and public health…Based on his review of thousands of studies, greater involvement in religious activities in general results in lower rates of alcohol and drug abuse, crime, delinquency, and cigarette use as well as more physical exercise and other positive health practices. Religious practice leads to improved outcomes for medical conditions such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, immune and endocrine function, HIV/AIDS, and other infections. Religious people are slower to develop age–related cognitive impairments like Alzheimer’s, recover from surgery quicker, and have longer lives. Koenig acknowledges that the studies are far from unanimous in showing health benefits, but anywhere from 60% to 90% of the studies reviewed showed efficacy, depending on the category.” (Koenig, Harold G., M.D. 2008 Religion, Spirituality and Public Health: Research, Applications, and Recommendations Testimony by Harold G. Koenig, M.D., to Subcommittee on Research and Science Education of the U.S. House of Representatives. http://archives.democrats.science.house.gov/Media/File/Commdocs/hearings/2008/Research/18sept/Koenig_Testimony.pdf)

        “To offset the fervor for religion as medical treatment, a group from Columbia University in New York criticized the methodology and conclusions of many of the studies. The authors pointed out esoteric but important procedural issues such as failure to ‘control for multiple comparisons’ or ‘for confounding variables and other covariates.’ In part, this means using measures such as frequency of church attendance and prayer, religious denomination, or degree of religious orthodoxy as the basis for improved outcomes is painting with a broad brush. There may have been other lifestyle or demographic influences that effected the subjects that weren’t adequately considered. When the studies were adjusted to take these issues into account, the efficacy of religion and prayer wasn’t as pronounced, although in many cases, some amount of benefit remained.” (Sloan, R.P., Bagiella, E., and Powell, T. 1999. Religion, spirituality, and medicine. Lancet. 353: 664–67)

        The truth probably lies somewhere in between. Most of these claims are correlational, not causal, so don’t prove that religion aids people physically or psychologically, but there’s almost assuredly something there. Check out Bernardi, Luciano, et al. 2001. Effect of rosary prayer and yoga mantras on autonomic cardiovascular rhythms: comparative study. British Medical Journal. 323: 1446–9 for a study that comes close to establishing cause and effect.

        • In reply to #27 by mitch:

          … Most of the folks in this discussion will be Dawkins Defenders, so will have the bias against religion serving any positive function.

          Not so much bias against positive function as skepticism that it is true. Shakespeare wrote plenty of fiction that, none the less, has had great “positive function” for hundreds of years. However, the question was not about potential benefit, but rather, psychological necessity.

          • In reply to #28 by Quine:

            In reply to #27 by mitch:

            … Most of the folks in this discussion will be Dawkins Defenders, so will have the bias against religion serving any positive function.

            Not so much bias against positive function as skepticism that it is true. Shakespeare wrote plenty of fiction that, none the less, has…

            Yes, skepticism is good. At what point does evidence begin to offset the skepticism? While you may be an open-minded skeptic, there are plenty in these discussions who aren’t so circumspect. To wit: “Religion is a disease.” Citing evidence is not a prerequisite for participating in these forums.

          • In reply to #28 by Quine:

            In reply to #27 by mitch:

            … Most of the folks in this discussion will be Dawkins Defenders, so will have the bias against religion serving any positive function.

            However, the question was not about potential benefit, but rather, psychological necessity.

            So for the second part of your response, psychological necessity is, of course, far more complicated, but would it be appropriate to rephrase this as: does religion increase evolutionary fitness? Is it adaptive and increase reproductive success? Sex isn’t a psychological necessity, but life is sure better with it, and is, without a doubt, important to evolutionary success. If religion contributes to healthier individuals, then this suggests religion is adaptive. The tougher question is why.

          • In reply to #30 by mitch:

            So for the second part of your response, psychological necessity is, of course, far more complicated, but would it be appropriate to rephrase this as: does religion increase evolutionary fitness

            I haven’t followed the thread but just wanted to point out that psychological necessity (and in general anything that we could put under the heading things that give us comfort or make us feel better about being alive) is not he same thing as evolutionary fitness. There are causal relations between the two, we can see the obvious evolutionary benefits for sex making us feel good. But from the standpoint of evolution it really doesn’t matter much if we are happy. Which is why any complete theory of human morality and mental health has to take evolution into account but also will most likely need to go beyond it as well.

          • In reply to #31 by Red Dog:

            In reply to #30 by mitch:

            So for the second part of your response, psychological necessity is, of course, far more complicated, but would it be appropriate to rephrase this as: does religion increase evolutionary fitness

            Psychological necessity (and in general anything that we could put under the heading things that give us comfort or make us feel better about being alive) is not he same thing as evolutionary fitness.

            I asked to change psychological necessity to evolutionary fitness because (I hope) we have a better understanding of what that means vs. psychological necessity for which there is less defined agreement. Either way we’re asking if religion has biological underpinnings.

            any complete theory of human morality and mental health has to take evolution into account but also will most likely need to go beyond it as well.

            What is beyond evolution?

            I want to see more evidence and better theories that explain why religion is so prevalent across virtually all known human cultures going back as far as we can go.

            Here’s a new one for you. It’s pretty radical, but completely based on science. Darwin’s Apple

          • In reply to #30 by mitch:

            So for the second part of your response, psychological necessity is, of course, far more complicated, but would it be appropriate to rephrase this as: does religion increase evolutionary fitness?

            That is an entirely different subject. Remember, biological evolution is about speciation. How are you going to get data on the impact of religion on speciation when there is only one known species that has religion? Of course, if you want to do that, you should start a discussion thread with that as the subject.

          • In reply to #33 by Quine:

            In reply to #30 by mitch:

            So for the second part of your response, psychological necessity is, of course, far more complicated, but would it be appropriate to rephrase this as: does religion increase evolutionary fitness?

            That is an entirely different subject. Remember, biological evolution is about speciation.

            Wow! Really? Anybody here in the Dawkins community want to weigh in on what evolution is? You could check out Wikipedia’s definition, which includes speciation, but includes far more than that. You might also want to check out a book called The Selfish Gene.

          • In reply to #34 by mitch:

            Wow! Really

            Yes. Darwin started it by writing about the “Origin of Species.” The word “evolve” simply means to “change.” Before Darwin, many suspected that species could change, but none could propose a mechanism for such change. Post Darwin we have learned that genes are the carriers of such change, and have studied how selection impacts the differential frequency of genes in a breeding population. The central idea of speciation by the process of changes of those gene frequencies over enough generations is where we are today.

            I don’t want to go off topic for this thread, but if you want to go into religion as a battle of memes or mutually supporting memes (“memeplex” in the terminology of Susan Blackmore) go ahead and start a thread about that. Just don’t confuse biological evolution of species with propagation of ideas among self-aware beings. The extent that knowledge derived from the former can be applied to the latter, has to be justified by evidence on a point by point basis.

          • In reply to #36 by Quine:

            we have learned that genes are the carriers of such change, and have studied how selection impacts the differential frequency of genes in a breeding population

            Exactly! Thank you for clarifying. Speciation is just one of many aspects of studying differential frequencies of genes in a breeding population. For example, when studying frequencies of trisomys such as Downs Syndrome or sickle cell variants in a population, that is not about speciation.

            if you want to go into religion as a battle of memes or mutually supporting memes (“memeplex” in the terminology of Susan Blackmore) go ahead and start a thread about that.

            I don’t and I didn’t. I’m not talking about memes; I’m talking about religion as a complex of behaviors that may be adaptive and increase genetic fitness. While we haven’t identified any “religion genes,” that doesn’t mean we can’t test if religious behavior results in the preferential evolutionary success just as Darwin and others did with other traits long before genetic mechanisms were understood.

          • In reply to #40 by mitch:

            In reply to #36 by Quine:

            we have learned that genes are the carriers of such change, and have studied how selection impacts the differential frequency of genes in a breeding population

            Exactly! Thank you for clarifying. Speciation is just one of many aspects of studying differential frequencies of genes in a breeding population. For example, when studying frequencies of trisomys such as Downs Syndrome or sickle cell variants in a population, that is not about speciation.

            Okay, you are interested in population genetics. First, you are going to have to specify what genes you are going to study. For example, do you think you are going to be able to find one or more genes in Catholics that better facilitate making the Sign of the Cross?
            >

            if you want to go into religion as a battle of memes or mutually supporting memes (“memeplex” in the terminology of Susan Blackmore) go ahead and start a thread about that.

            I don’t and I didn’t. I’m not talking about memes; I’m talking about religion as a complex of behaviors that may be adaptive and increase genetic fitness. While we haven’t identified any “religion genes,” that doesn’t mean we can’t test if religious behavior results in the preferential evolutionary success just as Darwin and others did with other traits long before genetic mechanisms were understood.

            Except that religion is predominately learned behavior (that was the point I was making above). We have just started being able to associate phenotypes with genes, but not so much (yet) for extended phenotypes. Religion goes past extended phenotypes into memes. In any case, it is not the subject of this thread, and if I go into it at the level it needs, the Mods are going to step in. Please start a thread on something like the population genetic impact of religion if that is what you want to discuss.

          • In reply to #44 by Quine:

            from #33 “Remember, biological evolution is about speciation.”

            “Okay, you are interested in population genetics.”

            Well, isn’t that special! You either learn very quickly or you are intentionally ignoring areas of science that don’t fit your agenda. Which is it? I had suggested you were an open minded skeptic. I retract that. You’ve obviously made up your mind that religion is solely nurture with no nature component, and you’re trying to structure your argument to enforce that. Not interested.

          • In reply to #50 by mitch:

            You’ve obviously made up your mind that religion is solely nurture with no nature component, and you’re trying to structure your argument to enforce that.

            No, that is not my position. I wrote that religion is predominately learned behavior. That is supported by the map of world religions that shows the biggest factor determining a person’s religion is the society in which that person was a child. The big overarching question is “Why are people religious?” One can certainly look at the nature v. nurture aspects involved there, just as one can for any aspect of life. My point is that you should take it to a thread where we can go into it. Please don’t mistake that for a closure of mind on my part.

  18. So what you are saying is that my answer does not address the question, I have given you an example of how religion actually contributes to the harm of peoples mental health, the question was is religion necessary to enable people within society to maintain a good standard of mental health, I think that my answer clearly points out that religion by way of denying scientific medical methods of treating mental health actually prohibits religions ability to contribute to the positive mental health of individuals within society.

    If you could not garner that from my obvious example cited by a reference then I really think that you are trying to ignore my statement and be blindly oblivious to the reality of the damaging effects that religion has on society, particularly regarding individuals mental health.

  19. “Might religion be necessary for the psychological health of some individuals and the sustainment of societal cohesion?”

    1. How can religion possibly be necessary for the psychological health of some individuals if religious organizations do not advocate treatment of mental health issues by medical professionals?

    Religions prefer to say things like, “Jesus will heal you”.

    How can someone claim that Jesus has healed someone if they have no definitive proof that he has done so?

    How will it contribute positively to a persons mental health if they are denied medical care because the religion has told them that Jesus will heal them?

    There are many people in the world who do not believe in religion, they are still functioning members of society, there are many other things that people can do together to promote societal cohesion rather than join a religious group or believe in a deity.

    Secular community groups for example, becoming involved in local political groups, joining sporting groups, cooking groups, studying groups, internet groups.

    People are always contributing to society every day of their lives, they live in towns, cities etc and this is what societies are.

    I am dumbfounded by the fact that someone would ever believe that they have to be a part of one particular interest group, in this case religion to be able to contribute to social cohesion.

    I was born an atheist and have never been a part of any kind of religious group, and you are telling me that it may be necessary for societal cohesion that people are members of religious groups, that is the theory you would like to discuss, well I say NO it is not necessary and will never be necessary.

    In fact I believe that it would actually be harmful to promote the idea because people could actually be contributing positively to society as an atheist instead of joining a religious group which has detrimental affects to individuals and society as a whole.

    People are free to do as they please and in my opinion, in my mothers particular case the church has acted in a criminal manner, whether or not they had the legal right to do what they did I still believe that they acted immorally and that they should be made to give her back her money.

    I will never trust a religous group and I would never advocate that someone join one for the sake of societal cohesion.

    While we are on this point, is demonizing minorities and forcing politicians to legislate against them because of religious principles “societal cohesion”?

    Is declaring war on people because of alternate religious beliefs great global societal cohesion?

    People who think that religious groups are necessary for societal cohesion have blinders on and are choosing not to look at how divisive religions can be to societies.

    We all have to live together and get along and if one particular group wants to legislate against another because of their religious beliefs then that is not contributing to societal cohesion.

    • In reply to #37 by Vikranersciel:

      “How can religion possibly be necessary for the psychological health of some individuals if religious organizations do not advocate treatment of mental health issues by medical professionals?”

      So the argument is that “Some people who have a certain belief advocate things that clearly conflict with mental health so therefor it is impossible for anyone to have that belief as part of their mental health?”

      Let’s see how else would that apply: “How can atheism possibly be necessary for the psychological health of some individuals if some atheist organizations (e.g. Soviet Russia) abused the concept of mental health that they used it to punish their political opponents.”

      Personally I don’t know whether religion might be required for some people or not. I think it’s an open question but there is at least some evidence that religion helps some people. I used to work in mental health and I’ve seen plenty of real examples. Although I acknowledge that even in all those examples it is possible that those people could get the same comfort from beliefs which were more rational and scientific. In fact I would strongly like to believe that and if I had to guess I would say I think it probably is true. But I don’t think there is nearly enough evidence or a well worked out theory of human development to know for sure either way.

      So for those of us who like to think scientifically, rather than just have knee jerk reactions where we automatically disparage anything to do with religion, the rational approach is to say we just don’t know right now.

      • Explain to me, (without spouting bullshit about Russia), how religion can be necessary to promote a persons mental health when religions advocate against the treatment of mental health issues by medical professionals.

        What is your reasoning behind this argument and why are you calling my statement a knee jerk reaction when I am simply explaining to you that this is in fact the case and it happens on a regular basis.

        In reply to #38 by Red Dog:

        In reply to #37 by Vikranersciel:

        “How can religion possibly be necessary for the psychological health of some individuals if religious organizations do not advocate treatment of mental health issues by medical professionals?”

        So the argument is that “Some people who have a certain belief advocate…

        • In reply to #39 by Vikranersciel:

          Explain to me, (without spouting bullshit about Russia), how religion can be necessary to promote a persons mental health when religions advocate against the treatment of mental health issues by medical professionals.

          Religions prefer to say things like, “Jesus will heal you”.

          Vik, it’s obviously important to you to believe religion is not beneficial just like religious people in god. You want to generalize about a small group of Christians and others who believe that God will intervene on their behalf, but that doesn’t mean that all of them would refuse modern medicine. And what about the billions of others whose religious beliefs don’t prevent them from desiring and accessing whatever mental and medical help is available? What about the thousands of tribal religions that existed for tens of thousands of years? Do they count? And that’s not really the question anyway. Whether religion is necessary for psychological or social health is separate from any specific religious doctrine.

        • In reply to #39 by Vikranersciel:

          Explain to me, (without spouting bullshit about Russia), how religion can be necessary to promote a persons mental health when religions advocate against the treatment of mental health issues by medical professionals.
          What is your reasoning behind this argument and why are you calling my statement a knee jerk reaction when I am simply explaining to you that this is in fact the case and it happens on a regular basis.

          I apologize for the Russian analogy. I was trying to get a bit creative because your argument was so obviously invalid it’s almost hard to know where to start to take it apart. Your argument is that since religion advocates against mental health then religion can’t have anything to do with mental health. To start with its false that religion advocates against mental health. I’ve worked in mental health and when I did I literally worked with people of faith every day sometimes including priests, nuns, and rabbis.

          I worked in a substance abuse ward and there were very strong ties between the therapists, therapy, and various religious groups. Actually at the time I didn’t like that the ties were so close but it was a private facility and they could do what they wanted. And when I mentioned my concerns to other people on the staff, most of whom were atheists or agnostics or just hippies like me, most of them weren’t all that concerned. Religious or not that ward was one of the most successful and as good professionals that is what they cared most about, not religious beleifs. I’ve also since talked to some friends who are therapists about substance abuse and they assure me that the statistics show 12 step higher power approaches are highly successful.

          So I guess what you must really mean is that some religions argue against mental health. This is a common atheist fundamentalist mistake. You see the worst of religion, the minority religious fundamentalists and you assume all religions are like that. I think if you looked up some poll numbers you would find very few major religions actively come out against mental health. And as for those who do, I could also find you medical doctors who come out against mental health. At the hospital that I worked at there was a guy who thought you could treat schizophrenia with vitamins and dieting. Does that mean all doctors have to be banned from commenting on nutrition?

          And BTW, none of that is to imply that I think religion is a good thing or that it’s overall a force for good rather than evil. I just don’t have a fundamentalist mind set, I can recognize something as highly flawed without hating it or viewing it as absolute evil.

          • In reply to #43 by Red Dog:

            So I guess what you must really mean is that some religions argue against mental health. This is a common atheist fundamentalist mistake. You see the worst of religion, the minority religious fundamentalists and you assume all religions are like that.

            I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before, but that’s strictly an anti-theist or anti-religion stance, not atheist. I don’t approve of lumping in the less reactionary atheists in just because that’s the most obvious label, especially when atheism by definition can be no more “fundamentalist” than not believing in tooth fairies.

            In reply to #38 by Red Dog:

            Personally I don’t know whether religion might be required for some people or not. I think it’s an open question but there is at least some evidence that religion helps some people.

            Pretty much this, though I imagine anyone would be in need of a therapist if they were so psychologically weak that not believing in a delusion caused them crippling trauma. In which case, they’re no different from any other mentally deluded patient.

            I also think there would turn out to be only a tiny minority of minorities that genuinely felt that way. I imagine most of the people who claim they can’t live without religion are simply ignorant, unimaginative, and misled by whomever foisted the beliefs on them in the first place.

          • In reply to #45 by Zeuglodon:

            In reply to #43 by Red Dog:
            I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before, but that’s strictly an anti-theist or anti-religion stance, not atheist. I don’t approve of lumping in the less reactionary atheists in just because that’s the most obvious label, especially when atheism by definition can be no more “fundamentalist” than not believing in tooth fairies.

            I agree. Actually that is my point. But regardless of what we call them: New Atheists, Fundamentalist Atheists, I even tried the term Dawkiban but that’s not really fair to Dawkins since it’s his followers not him, but whatever we call them there are a lot of people on this site who I think fall into that category of Fundamentalist Atheists.

            Before I came to this site I would have said, I did say on other comment boards, that the notion of someone who was as rigid and dogmatic and bigoted against theists as some theists are toward atheists was just a strawman argument from defenders of theism. I no longer think that and I frankly get very tired of skipping over dumb jokes and hatred expressed at theists. Also, I’m disappointed that Dawkins and other reasonable atheists don’t speak out more against those kinds of comments here.

            Pretty much this, though I imagine anyone would be in need of a therapist if they were so psychologically weak that not believing in a delusion caused them crippling trauma. In which case, they’re no different from any other mentally deluded patient.

            Fine. True. But just as not all Atheists are Fundamentalist Atheists not all Theists are Fundamentalist Theists. In fact, and I sometimes wonder about the people who comment here, do they live in some part of the UK that only allows atheists and fundamentalist theists in because you all seem to have a very different experience with religious people than I do. The vast majority of people I’ve known in my life have been theists and (outside of patients at the psych hospital I worked at) I’ve never known any theist who was so psychologically weak that their faith or crisis of faith cased any kind of trauma. For most of them it’s essentially a social thing that they barely give serious thought to.

          • In reply to #46 by Red Dog:

            I agree. Actually that is my point. But regardless of what we call them: New Atheists, Fundamentalist Atheists, I even tried the term Dawkiban but that’s not really fair to Dawkins since it’s his followers not him, but whatever we call them there are a lot of people on this site who I think fall into that category of Fundamentalist Atheists.

            Before I came to this site I would have said, I did say on other comment boards, that the notion of someone who was as rigid and dogmatic and bigoted against theists as some theists are toward atheists was just a strawman argument from defenders of theism. I no longer think that and I frankly get very tired of skipping over dumb jokes and hatred expressed at theists. Also, I’m disappointed that Dawkins and other reasonable atheists don’t speak out more against those kinds of comments here.

            I sympathize, and I am sorry if I seemed a bit defensive. You’re correct in pointing out that there are undesirables on both sides, and it’s way too black-and-white to act like atheists are good or civil just because they have the best arguments or happen to be right. Insofar as it deflates such an attitude, I welcome a regular reality check, especially since I am coming to realize that the best tone to adopt on such matters is a non-evaluative one, so as not to risk self-interested emotions distorting one’s objectivity.

            My objection was one I have about atheist representation in general: that when people talk about, say, angry or fundamentalist atheists, they’re actually singling out people for other views, such as antitheism or even misotheism. Calling them atheists, even if they are atheists, feels a bit like saying “all antitheists are atheists, therefore all atheists are antitheists”. It’s probably more a cosmetic than an essential concern, but for the sake of the less antagonistic atheists who aren’t uncivil, I’d prefer not to use the Atheist label to describe those who are.

          • In reply to #47 by Zeuglodon:

            My objection was one I have about atheist representation in general: that when people talk about, say, angry or fundamentalist atheists, they’re actually singling out people for other views, such as antitheism or even misotheism

            As usual we agree much more than we disagree. Although in this case I just totally agree with you as long as we are talking about the media in general absolutely the portrayal of atheists is incredibly biased. I sometimes get so caught up nit picking the things I disagree with here I forget to affirm how much I agree with a lot of what is said and I certainly agree with that. It’s amazing actually when you read the way people like Prof. Dawkins, Lawrence Krauss, Pinker, are portrayed in supposedly good journalistic places like the NY Times. “Strident”, “confrontational”, etc. When they are always the essence of politeness and the people they are arguing with usually range from smug and self satisfied (Ben Stein) to blow hard total idiots (BillO the Clown).

            I don’t watch as many Dawkins videos these days because I pretty much know all the arguments by heart and I’m more interested in reading new stuff but I’ve seen him talk a lot and I’ve never, ever seen him be rude even though there were countless times when I thought he had a right to be. BTW, (sorry I’m on my soap box a lot today) that is another reason I have issues with what IMO is an excess of rude talk about theists on this site, I think ultimately the polite reasoned approach that Dawkins takes is not only better in the sense of consistent with my values that emphasize rational debate, but from a purely practical standpoint it works better as well. You may fire up the people who already agree with you with incendiary talk — it’s kind of like the sugar and far of an intellectual diet it sure feels great at the time — but in the long run the broccoli of rational debate is better for you and more likely to win people over.

            Definitely stretched that metaphor a bit too much.

          • In reply to #48 by Red Dog:

            Yeah, what’s tasty and what’s good for you are two different things. That’s a good metaphor to use: I’ll have to remember that one. :-)

          • In reply to #46 by Red Dog:

            In reply to #45 by Zeuglodon:

            In reply to #43 by Red Dog:
            I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before, but that’s strictly an anti-theist or anti-religion stance, not atheist. … I frankly get very tired of skipping over dumb jokes and hatred expressed at theists.

            I’ll stop making jokes about fundamentalists when they stop issuing death threats.

          • As Richard Dawkins might say “Rebuke gratefully accepted”

            http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LRitr8RYsh4

            In reply to #46 by Red Dog:

            In reply to #45 by Zeuglodon:

            In reply to #43 by Red Dog:
            I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before, but that’s strictly an anti-theist or anti-religion stance, not atheist. I don’t approve of lumping in the less reactionary atheists in just because that’s the most obvious label, especially when atheism…

  20. In reply to #51 by steve_hopker:

    I’ll stop making jokes about fundamentalists when they stop issuing death threats.

    Ah yes, the “but he started it mom!” defense. That you resort to such an infantile response really helps make my point. Justifying bad behavior by pointing to worse behavior on the other side is no defense for someone who believes in a principled approach to life and debate. Of course most people aren’t as principled (and almost none so modest and humble ;-) as I am.

    • In reply to #52 by Red Dog:

      In reply to #51 by steve_hopker:

      I’ll stop making jokes about fundamentalists when they stop issuing death threats.

      Ah yes, the “but he started it mom!” defense. That you resort to such an infantile response really helps make my point. Justifying bad behavior by pointing to worse behavior on the o…

      I admit wasn’t making a philosophical or scientific point, more of an explanation of how I feel. Yet, are you seriously saying humour is an infantile unacceptable way to counter prejudice?

      I know several jokes – told by gay comics that might undermine homophobia – sometimes ways people may find edgy. For example;

      Q. What’s the difference between a straight man and a gay man?

      A. About five pints.

      or

      Q. What’s the difference between a gay pint and a straight pint?

      A. The gay pint goes down quicker.

      Lighten up, Red Dog! Can you really equate jokes like that to clerics and politicians demanding that people like me should be publicly hanged? (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YuhbwfVh9kM: warning – photos of hangings in Iran)

  21. Seemingly the scientific view of religion should be that similar to a corporation. These man made entities like organisms strive to survive in a landscape where cash flow is the blood of life. Christianity provides assurances and Nike manufactures shoes both filling niche needs. The scientific mind can easily demolish the foundations of religion but as in war leaves little to shelter the masses. “Get over it; man up!” is inappropriate to a grieveing mother who lost a child. The vacuum of a needed niche must be filled.

  22. Yes. But actually, it is belief in Baal the Destroyer, and no other god, that is necessary to psychological well-being and social cohesion. You see how fouled up everything is right now? Where, oh where are the believers in Baal the Destroyer?

  23. If somebody tells you that they believe a large dragon is watching them from outer space and that if they do something which upsets the dragon it will kill them, or if you are confronted by somebody who tells you that angels have said he must kill everybody in a certain town, you would not call this man religious but would probably call him schizophrenic. Why, then, should I believe that people who tell me that a being who owns some kind of club in the sky, which people of a certain moral disposition can join, after they are dead, are anything but nuts?

  24. Adherence to a religion and expectation of an afterlife are two separate concepts. They both depend on the supernatural and religions have co-opted the afterlife, but there is no necessary connection. So, religion is not a prerequisite for comforting thoughts of life after death.

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