Tag Archives: Childhood

Study explores whether atheism is rooted in reason or emotion

Navy SEAL Matthew "Axe" Axelson
Image of Navy SEAL Matthew “Axe” Axelson from the movie “Lone Survivor”

From First Things, based on research reported by CNN.

A new set of studies in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology finds that atheists and agnostics report anger toward God either in the past or anger focused on a hypothetical image of what they imagine God must be like. Julie Exline, a psychologist at Case Western Reserve University and the lead author of this recent study, has examined other data on this subject with identical results. Exline explains that her interest was first piqued when an early study of anger toward God revealed a counterintuitive finding: Those who reported no belief in God reported more grudges toward him than believers.

At first glance, this finding seemed to reflect an error. How could people be angry with God if they did not believe in God? Reanalyses of a second dataset revealed similar patterns: Those who endorsed their religious beliefs as “atheist/agnostic” or “none/unsure” reported more anger toward God than those who reported a religious affiliation.

Exline notes that the findings raised questions of whether anger might actually affect belief in God’s existence, an idea consistent with social science’s previous clinical findings on “emotional atheism.”

Studies in traumatic events suggest a possible link between suffering, anger toward God, and doubts about God’s existence. According to Cook and Wimberly (1983), 33% of parents who suffered the death of a child reported doubts about God in the first year of bereavement. In another study, 90% of mothers who had given birth to a profoundly retarded child voiced doubts about the existence of God (Childs, 1985). Our survey research with undergraduates has focused directly on the association between anger at God and self-reported drops in belief (Exline et al., 2004). In the wake of a negative life event, anger toward God predicted decreased belief in God’s existence.

The most striking finding was that when Exline looked only at subjects who reported a drop in religious belief, their faith was least likely to recover if anger toward God was the cause of their loss of belief. In other words, anger toward God may not only lead people to atheism but give them a reason to cling to their disbelief.

I think the best defense to this phenomena is for the church to not tell people that God’s job is to make them happy in this life on Earth. I think if we spent less time selling Christianity to young people as life enhancement, we would have much fewer apostates. If young people get into their minds that God is their boss, not their waiter, then that is a good preparation for the real world. And all of the challenges that Christians face – from poverty, to peer pressure, to health problems to persecution. Stop expecting happiness, that is not God’s goal for you.

I was blessed to have discovered apologetics at a very early age. This passage from C. S. Lewis’ “The Screwtape Letters” always stood out to me back then:

Do not be deceived, Wormwood. Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy’s will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.

When I was young, I shortened this quote into my motto, which lasted until just a few years  back when I finally started to feel some security because of my contingency fund’s size. And that motto was “nothing works”. Nothing works. That’s right, so get used to it. Everything sucks, nothing works. Nothing works.

Stop expecting God to make you happy. You are a soldier, and your job is to fight to the last breath in your body for the General. Hold until relieved. You’re damn right it’s unfair. Your whole life is unfair and then you die. Get used to it. When I was in college, my Christian friends and I used to joke that even if we fought our entire lives for God and he tossed us into Hell like firewood, we would still do the same things. We were happy to serve and we didn’t think about whether we were getting what we wanted.

Certainly, we did not take stupid chances to get ourselves into trouble deliberately. But we just didn’t care about being happy, that was not our goal. We felt that God was in the right, and sinful humans were in the wrong, and that it was enough for us to serve on the right side. We didn’t expect anyone to care how we felt, we just expected to serve. And if our first plan failed, we went on to the next plan, and the next, until we found a way to serve in spite of the unfairness of it all.

There is no way that you could read the New Testament and come out with the idea that Jesus wanted fun and thrills and good feelings. He never laughed. He was killed for his obedience to God. He desperately wanted to avoid punishment, but he did things that he did not feel like doing because it was for the benefit of others, in obedience to God his Father. And it’s that kind of realistic pessimism – downbeat practical resignation – that we ought to be striving for. This life is not a trip to the mall where everything is on sale and we grab what we like. At all.

Study explores whether atheism is rooted in reason or emotion

From First Things, based on research reported by CNN.

A new set of studies in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology finds that atheists and agnostics report anger toward God either in the past or anger focused on a hypothetical image of what they imagine God must be like. Julie Exline, a psychologist at Case Western Reserve University and the lead author of this recent study, has examined other data on this subject with identical results. Exline explains that her interest was first piqued when an early study of anger toward God revealed a counterintuitive finding: Those who reported no belief in God reported more grudges toward him than believers.

At first glance, this finding seemed to reflect an error. How could people be angry with God if they did not believe in God? Reanalyses of a second dataset revealed similar patterns: Those who endorsed their religious beliefs as “atheist/agnostic” or “none/unsure” reported more anger toward God than those who reported a religious affiliation.

Exline notes that the findings raised questions of whether anger might actually affect belief in God’s existence, an idea consistent with social science’s previous clinical findings on “emotional atheism.”

Studies in traumatic events suggest a possible link between suffering, anger toward God, and doubts about God’s existence. According to Cook and Wimberly (1983), 33% of parents who suffered the death of a child reported doubts about God in the first year of bereavement. In another study, 90% of mothers who had given birth to a profoundly retarded child voiced doubts about the existence of God (Childs, 1985). Our survey research with undergraduates has focused directly on the association between anger at God and self-reported drops in belief (Exline et al., 2004). In the wake of a negative life event, anger toward God predicted decreased belief in God’s existence.

The most striking finding was that when Exline looked only at subjects who reported a drop in religious belief, their faith was least likely to recover if anger toward God was the cause of their loss of belief. In other words, anger toward God may not only lead people to atheism but give them a reason to cling to their disbelief.

I think the best defense to this phenomena is for the church to not tell people that God’s job is to make them happy in this life on Earth. I think if we spent less time selling Christianity to young people as life enhancement, we would have much fewer apostates. If young people get into their minds that God is their boss, not their waiter, then that is a good preparation for the real world. And all of the challenges that Christians face – from poverty, to peer pressure, to health problems to persecution. Stop expecting happiness, that is not God’s goal for you.

I was blessed to have discovered apologetics at a very early age. This passage from C. S. Lewis’ “The Screwtape Letters” always stood out to me back then:

Do not be deceived, Wormwood. Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy’s will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.

When I was young, I shortened this quote into my motto, which lasted until just a few years  back when I finally started to feel some security. And that motto was “nothing works”. Nothing works. That’s right, so get used to it. Everything sucks, nothing works. Nothing works.

Stop expecting God to make you happy. You are a soldier, and your job is to fight to the last breath in your body for the General. Hold until relieved. You’re damn right it’s unfair. Your whole life is unfair and then you die. Get used to it. When I was in college, my Christian friends and I used to joke that even if we fought our entire lives for God and he tossed us into Hell like firewood, we would still do the same things. We were happy to serve and we didn’t think about whether we were getting what we wanted. We did not take stupid chances, but we just didn’t care about being happy. We felt that God was in the right, and sinful humans were in the wrong, and that it was enough for us to serve on the right side. We didn’t expect anyone to care how we felt, we just expected to serve. And if our first plan failed, we went on to the next plan, and the next, until we found a way to serve in spite of the unfairness of it all.

Friday night movie: Saboteur (1942)

Here’s tonight’s movie:

IMDB mean rating: [7.3/10]

IMDB median rating: [7/10]

Description:

Aircraft factory worker Barry Kane is accused of starting a fire at a Glendale, California airplane plant during World War II, an act of sabotage that killed his friend Mason. Kane believes the real culprit is a man named Fry who handed him a fire extinguisher filled with gasoline during the fire. When the investigators find no one named “Fry” on the list of plant workers, they assume Kane is guilty.

This one is directed by Alfred Hitchcock.

Happy Friday!

New study: scientists and the general public similar in religious practices

Rice University reports on a new study conducted by sociologist Elaine Howard Ecklund.

Excerpt:

The public’s view that science and religion can’t work in collaboration is a misconception that stunts progress, according to a new survey of more than 10,000 Americans, scientists and evangelical Protestants. The study by Rice University also found that scientists and the general public are surprisingly similar in their religious practices.

The study, “Religious Understandings of Science (RUS),” was conducted by sociologist Elaine Howard Ecklund and presented today in Chicago during the annual American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) conference. Ecklund is the Autrey Professor of Sociology and director of Rice’s Religion and Public Life Program.

“We found that nearly 50 percent of evangelicals believe that science and religion can work together and support one another,” Ecklund said. “That’s in contrast to the fact that only 38 percent of Americans feel that science and religion can work in collaboration.”

The study also found that 18 percent of scientists attended weekly religious services, compared with 20 percent of the general U.S. population; 15 percent consider themselves very religious (versus 19 percent of the general U.S. population); 13.5 percent read religious texts weekly (compared with 17 percent of the U.S. population); and 19 percent pray several times a day (versus 26 percent of the U.S. population).

[…]RUS is the largest study of American views on religion and science.

What would be interesting is to find out what specific arguments scientists who believe in God would appeal to, and which specific arguments scientists who don’t believe in God would appeal to.

You can see Ecklund’s book about her research here on the Oxford University Press web site. You can also buy the book here from Amazon.com.

And here is a related lecture from Cambridge University featuring Dr. Ecklund.

Does science cause people to disbelieve in God? A look at the research of Dr. Elaine Ecklund

Dr. Elaine Ecklund explains her research about scientists and their beliefs in this paper.

Excerpt:

Scholars talk a great deal about research done in the 1960’s that revealed differences in religious beliefs among members of different disciplines (especially comparisons between natural and social scientists). My findings, however, do not reveal vast discrepancies in religious belief and practice among disciplines and fields. The true difference lies between academics in these scientific disciplines and members of the general public. With little doubt, scientists at major research universities are less religious—at least according to traditional forms of religion—than members of the general public.

During public lectures about the study, the question inevitably asked first is: Do the professors you studied believe in God? When asked their beliefs about God, nearly 34 percent of academic scientists answer “I do not believe in God” and about 30 percent answer “I do not know if there is a God and there is no way to find out,” the classic agnostic response. This means that over 60 percent of professors in these natural and social science disciplines describe themselves as either atheist or religiously agnostic. In comparison, among those in the general U.S. population, about 3 percent claim to be atheists and about 5 percent are religiously agnostic. When it comes to affiliation with particular religions, scientists are also vastly different from members of the broader society. About 52 percent of scientists see themselves as having no religious affiliation when compared to only 14 percent of the general population. Scientists who are not religious justify their inattention to religion through language that stresses the irrelevance of science to religion. Those not raised in religious homes, the case for the majority of scientists without religious affiliation, also emphasize their lack of experience with religion.

[…]What are we to make of this lack of traditional religion? Is knowledge of science somehow in conflict with being religious? Childhood religious background, not exposure to scientific education, seems to be the most powerful predictor of future irreligion. Those scientists raised in almost any faith tradition are more likely to currently be religious than those raised without any tradition. In addition, scientists who describe religion as important in their families as children are much more likely to practice faith currently. When compared to the general population, a larger proportion of scientists are raised in non-religious homes. When one considers that many more scientists come from non-religious homes or homes that were nominally religious, the distinctions between the general population and the scientific community make more sense. A large part of the difference between scientists and the general population may be due more to religious upbringing, rather than scientific training or university pressure to be irreligious, although these other possibilities should be further explored.

I heard about this research in the latest episode of the Reasonable Faith podcast. You can listen to it to hear Dr. Craig’s comments.

I think this research raises an important question that we need to ask scientists who don’t believe in God. That question is: “which particular pieces of scientific evidence led you to doubt God’s existence?” And then we should have done our scientific homework about the Big Bang, the fine-tuning, the origin of life, the Cambrian explosion, the habitability arguments from astrobiology, and so on, to be able to make a positive case for God’s existence from science. Christians ought to be more excited about science, because we have nothing to fear – and everything to gain – from knowing a lot more about science than we know now.

You can see Ecklund’s book about her research here on the Oxford University Press web site. You can also buy the book here from Amazon.com.

UPDATE: Commenter Eugene has found a related lecture from Cambridge University featuring Dr. Ecklund.