“Are religious people happier?”

“Are religious people happier?” March 24, 2024


Giverny, with colors!
A view of Monet’s garden at Giverny, by Art Anderson (Wikimedia Commons public domain image) Since I have no current photographs of Eden or Paradise, this will have to do for now.

I think that, this time around, I’ll lead off with something from the Christopher Hitchens Memorial “How Religion Poisons Everything” File™.  I mean, this claim, asserted by Dr. Stephen Cranney, is so horrible and so very alarming that it really does cry out for drastic emergency action:

“Are religious people happier? The science is pretty clear:  According to many studies over the years, and confirmed in my new data analysis, religious people are, statistically speaking, measurably more likely to be happy.”

JUNO and Jupiter, together at last
An artist’s rendition (from NASA/JPL) of the JUNO orbiter approaching the planet Jupiter

(Wikimedia Commons public domain image)

I want to share a few more passages here that I’ve extracted for my own undoubtedly nefarious purposes from my reading of Robert Spitzer, Science at the Doorstep to God: Science and Reason in Support of God, the Soul, and Life after Death:

On the cosmological front, in their 2018 article in the Journal of High Energy Physics, Stephen Hawking and his co-author, Thomas Hertog, show on the basis of observational data that eternal inflation and the infinite multiverse are exceedingly unlikely.  They explain that any multiverse that could generate our universe would have to have a boundary in past time—that is, a beginning.  When this is combined with other highly improbable consequences of eternal inflation and an infinite multiverse, such as Boltzmann Brains and Brief Brains, the preponderance of cosmological evidence has shifted toward a beginning of physical reality (regardless of whether this is a multiverse, bouncing universe, or simply our universe).  (13)

My own personal sense — and, of course, I could be wrong; there is some slight precedent for believing in my fallibility — is that much science and many scientists are more openly favorable to theism and theistic claims today than they were when I was younger.

[A] large percentage of young scientists consider themselves believers in God or a higher spiritual reality.  (13-14)

Though some have contended that scientific evidence overwhelmingly favors materialism—that is, rejection of God, religion, or a spiritual dimension of humans (e.g., a soul)—it is interesting to note a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center found that 51 percent of scientists profess belief in God or a spiritual reality, while 41 percent are agnostics or atheists. 6 Interestingly, younger scientists profess belief in God or a higher spiritual reality more than older ones. According to the same survey, 66 percent of young scientists profess belief in God or a higher spiritual reality, while only 32 percent are agnostic or atheist—two-thirds are believers, while only one-third are not.
The statistics concerning faith of physicians are more striking. According to the 2014 survey reported in the Journal of Religion and Health, 76 percent of physicians are believers in God or a higher spiritual power, while 12.4 percent are agnostic and 11.6 percent are atheist—three-quarters are believers and one-fourth are not.  Furthermore, 74 percent of physicians believe that miracles have occurred in the past, and 73 percent believe they occur in the present.
It is also worth noting that most of the originators of modern physics were religious believers, including Galileo Galilei (the father of observational astronomy and initial laws of dynamics and gravity), Sir Isaac Newton (father of calculus, classical mechanics, and quantitative optics), James Clerk Maxwell (father of the classical theory of electromagnetic radiation), Max Planck (father of quantum theory and co-founder of modern physics), Albert Einstein (father of the theory of relativity and co-founder of modern physics), Kurt Gödel (one of the greatest modern mathematicians and logicians and originator of the incompleteness theorems), Sir Arthur Eddington (father of the nuclear fusion explanation of stellar radiation), Werner Heisenberg (father of the matrix theory of quantum mechanics and the uncertainty principle), and Freeman Dyson (originator of multiple theories in contemporary quantum electrodynamics).  There are many other contemporary Nobel Prize–winning physicists, chemists, and biologists who have openly professed belief in God and a transphysical soul.  (15)

And it should scarcely be surprising that this passage caught my attention:

Beyond physics and cosmology, new developments in the evidence for transcendent causation and intelligence are occurring in the areas of medicine, neuroscience, and philosophy of mind. The peer-reviewed research in near-death experiences and terminal lucidity has become so prolific that the New York Academy of Sciences recently issued a consensus statement among physicians and scientists that states, “Evidence suggests that neither physiological nor cognitive processes end with death.” Based on peer-reviewed medical studies of near-death experiences, terminal lucidity, and cognition in hydrocephalic patients, combined with linguistic-genetic studies of the origin of syntactically significant language by Noam Chomsky and Robert Berwick,  as well as studies of self-consciousness and interior experience by David Chalmers and Thomas Nagel, the reality of a transphysical dimension of human consciousness and intellection capable of surviving bodily death (like a soul) becomes not only admissible but also compellingly probable. This transphysical dimension of consciousness seems to be the explanation for why human language and thought are categorically different from ape language. (14)

I’ll close with this short passage, which I like but don’t fully agree with:

It is said that an argument is what convinces reasonable men and a proof is what it takes to convince even an unreasonable man.  (52)

I understand the fundamental point, and I agree with it.  But I would modify the saying by pointing out that a good or even a successful argument will convince reasonable men.  (Or, to avoid giving offense, I should say that it “will convince reasonable people.“).  But, of course, some people will be convinced by bad arguments, and there are plenty of good arguments that, for one reason or another, fail to convince seemingly “reasonable” people.

As I’ve observed here several times before, humans are not fully — or, anyway, solely — rational beings.  We are influenced by our life histories, our emotions, our emotional or psychological baggage, our areas of ignorance, our precommitments or biases, the limits of our intelligence, and a host of other factors.  And that’s every bit as true for atheists as it is for theists.  Or, if you prefer, it’s every bit as true for theists as it is for atheists.



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