Do atheists have a lower divorce rate than Christians?

Map of marriage rate by state
Map of marriage rate by state

Here is an article from USA Today that comments on the notion that atheists have a lower divorce rate than Christians.

Excerpt:

It’s been proclaimed from pulpits and blogs for years — Christians divorce as much as everyone else in America.

But some scholars and family activists are questioning the oft-cited statistics, saying Christians who attend church regularly are more likely to remain wed.

“It’s a useful myth,” said Bradley Wright, a University of Connecticut sociologist who recently wrote “Christians Are Hate-Filled Hypocrites … and Other Lies You’ve Been Told.”

“Because if a pastor wants to preach about how Christians should take their marriages more seriously, he or she can trot out this statistic to get them to listen to him or her.”

The various findings on religion and divorce hinge on what kind of Christians are being discussed.

Wright combed through the General Social Survey, a vast demographic study conducted by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago, and found that Christians, like adherents of other religions, have a divorce rate of about 42%. The rate among religiously unaffiliated Americans is 50%.

When Wright examined the statistics on evangelicals, he found worship attendance has a big influence on the numbers. Six in 10 evangelicals who never attend had been divorced or separated, compared to just 38% of weekly attendees.

[…]Brad Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, agrees there’s been some confusion.

“You do hear, both in Christian and non-Christian circles, that Christians are no different from anyone else when it comes to divorce and that is not true if you are focusing on Christians who are regular church attendees,” he said.

Wilcox’s analysis of the National Survey of Families and Households has found that Americans who attend religious services several times a month were about 35% less likely to divorce than those with no religious affiliation.

Nominal conservative Protestants, on the other hand, were 20% more likely to divorce than the religiously unaffiliated.

“There’s something about being a nominal ‘Christian’ that is linked to a lot of negative outcomes when it comes to family life,” Wilcox said.

Here’s a quote from an Oklahoma State University study that confirms the Wright and Wilcox conclusions:

History of Divorce and Religious Involvement

Those who say they are more religious are less likely, not more, to have already experienced divorce. Likewise, those who report more frequent attendance at religious services were significantly less likely to have been divorced. This pattern of findings held using various analytic techniques that test which variables differentiate persons who have been divorced from persons who have not been divorced, while controlling for other variables that might affect the interpretation of the data, such as age, age of first marriage, income, and gender. When both the global rating of religiousness and the item assessing fiequency of attendance at religious services are entered into the same analysis, the attendance item remains significantly associated with divorce history but the global religiousness item does not. This suggests that a key aspect of how religious faith affects marital relationships may be through involvement with a community of faith.

So, please do bookmark this information for the next time you hear an atheist make this argument. Obviously, you can’t expect people who are not serious about their religion to be bound by the moral duties imposed by that religion. People who attend church regularly are probably more serious about their religion, and also probably more informed about what their holy book says. If their holy book is the Bible, then there are few options for divorce.

An article from Focus on the Family by Amy Tracy explains when divorce is allowed according to the Bible.

God is very clear, however, that He hates divorce (Malachi 2:16). He also says, “So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate” (Matthew 19:6). According to the New Testament, there are two justifications for divorce: infidelity (Matthew 5:32) and desertion (1 Corinthians 7:15).

So divorce is not something a Bible believing Christian can do for frivolous reasons, unless he wants to be in rebellion against God.

The future of marriage in the church

In my own case, I learned about chastity and sobriety and courting outside the church, and in my case that means that I am still a virgin, that I don’t drink more than a beer a year, and that when I like a girl, I court her. I do think that people in the church are generally more moral than people outside the church, but that’s more because of convention rather than conviction. I don’t think it’s going to last, in other words. Church is not the place where reasons and evidence are given that help people to resist peer pressure when they enter hostile environments, like the university. And often, parents are too busy working to understand the issues and communicate them to their children.

I’ve never been in a church where they explained the hormones that are released during sex that cause you to bond to the person you’re having sex with. You would have to look in books or listen to lectures in order to understand the problem with having sex with someone you are not committed to – how it causes you to hold back your emotions for fear of a break-up. The church doesn’t have much to say about the social effects of single motherhood by choice or the effects of gay parenting on children. Nor do they have any positive vision to offer men about how they can serve God by marrying carefully.

Christians who participate in a church community will adopt some of these values, especially if they stay clear of popular culture, the university, etc. Especially if they don’t work in a very secular environment, like a high-tech company or in Hollywood. But unless Christian communities get serious about grounding their values in evidence, I wouldn’t expect this situation to go on, and you can already see young people falling away from church in record numbers when they get to university as a result of this refusal to engage. We’re doing well now, but we should move to secure our gains.

New study: children of divorced parents are less likely to be religious

A family praying and reading the Bible
A family praying and reading the Bible

This is from the leftist Washington Post, of all places.

Excerpt:

Two widely recognized trends in American society might have something to do with each other.

Divorce rates climbed to the highest levels ever in the 1980s, when about half of all marriages ended in divorce.

And in the present day, Americans are rapidly becoming less religious. Since 1972, the share of Americans who say they do not adhere to any particular religion has increased from 5 percent of the population to 25 percent.

Could those two trends be related? A new study from the Public Religion Research Institute says yes. The children of divorced parents have grown up to be adults of no religion.

People whose parents divorced when they were children are significantly more likely to grow up not to be religious as adults, the study found. Thirty-five percent of the children of divorced parents told pollsters they are now nonreligious, compared with 23 percent of people whose parents were married when they were children.

[…]Cox said his team found that even children of divorced parents who are religious are less religious than their peers. Thirty-one percent of them go to services every week, compared with 43 percent of religious people whose parents were married when they were growing up.

This part about Protestant pastors wimping out of thorny issues is very interesting:

Andrew Root, a professor at Luther Seminary who has written a book about the spiritual consequences of divorce for children, was not surprised to hear about the study’s findings.

“Everything in a divorce gets divided. Literally everything. Parents’ friends get divided. Relatives get divided. Everyone takes sides,” Root said. “Even religion takes sides. The church gets divided. Dad leaves Mom’s faith, or vice versa. Negotiating those worlds becomes difficult.”

Root said churches are not doing enough to speak directly to the concerns of children in those situations, so the kids lose faith in the ability of the church to help them. He said that when the divorce rate climbed in the 1980s, many members of the clergy, especially mainline Protestant pastors, stopped speaking out against divorce so as not to alienate struggling congregants. But by going silent on the subject, they didn’t offer any comfort to the kids.

As adults, Root said, those same people do not believe the church will respond to their adult problems. “They’re now thinking, ‘I’m dealing with depression.’ Or, ‘I’m dealing with my own marital troubles.’ The church must not have anything to say to me, because when I was 8 and dealing with divorce, my Sunday-school teacher didn’t even say, ‘Man, Amanda, that must be really complicated for you’,” Root said.

I get e-mails all the time from people who are suffering from the effects of the Sexual Revolution, which was put in place by selfish adults so they could do whatever they wanted. Children suffered a lot from this. Obviously, the painful of experience of their parents divorcing hurt their view of God. But divorce also hurts a child’s ability to know what a man loving a woman in a stable commitment looks like, and what a woman loving a man in a stable commitment looks like. I mean – what does love between sexes look like when the “in love” feeling has worn off, and all that remains is the commitment to build something together? I think that a lot is riding on the stability of the relationship between the child’s mother and father.

Tactics: the worst mistake a Christian can make when doing apologetics

I have a key that will unlock a puzzling mystery
I have a key that will unlock a puzzling mystery

So, this is just an advice post for doing apologetics.

Here are three situations I’ve run into while doing apologetics in the last month.

First situation. I was talking with a lady who is an atheist. I had a copy of “God’s Crime Scene” in my hand, and she asked me about it. I told her that it was a book written by the guy who solved the homicide case that I asked her to watch on Dateline. She remembered – it was the two-hour special on the woman who was killed with a garrotte. She pointed at the book and said “what’s in it?” I said, it has 8 pieces of evidence that fit better with a theistic worldview than with an atheistic one, and some of them scientific. Her reply to me was – literally – “which denomination do you want me to join?”

Second situation. I was talking with a friend of mine who teaches in a Catholic school. She was telling that she got the opportunity to talk to her students about God, and found out that some of them were not even theists, and many of them had questions. So she asked them for questions and got a list. The list included many hard cases, like “what about the Bible and slavery” and “why do Christians oppose gay marriage?” and so on.

Third situation. Talking to a grad student about God’s existence. I’m laying out my scientific arguments for her, holding up the peer-reviewed papers for each discovery. I get to the Doug Axe paper on protein folding probabilities, and she holds up her hand. One question: “Am I going to Hell?”

So think about those three situations. In each case, the opponent is trying to reject Christianity by jumping way, way ahead to the very end of the process. When you do Christian apologetics, you do not take the bait and jump to the end of the process dealing with nitty gritty details until you have made your case for the core of the Christian worldview using your strongest evidence. Let me explain.

So, your strongest evidence as a Christian are the scientific arguments, along with the moral argument. Those would include (for starters) the following:

  1. kalam cosmological argument
  2. cosmic fine-tuning
  3. galactic and stellar habitability
  4. origin of life / DNA
  5. molecular machines / irreducible complexity
  6. the moral argument

The problem I am seeing today is that atheists are rejecting discussions about evidence because they think that all we are interested in is getting them to become Christians. Well, yes. I want you to become a Christian. But I know perfectly well what that entails – it entails a change of life priorities. Both of the women I spoke to are living with their boyfriends, and the kids in the Catholic school just want to have fun. None of them wants to believe in a God who will require self-denial, self-control, and self-sacrifice. Nobody wants God to be in that leader position in their lives. Christianity is 100% reversed from today’s me-first, fun-seeking, thrill-seeking, fear-of-missing-out travel spirit of the age.

So, how to answer all these late-game questions? The answer is simple. You don’t answer any late-game questions until the person you are talking with accounts for the widely-accepted data in your list. These are things that have got to be accepted before any discussion about minor issues like one angel vs two angels at the empty tomb can occur. When we discuss all the basic issues where the evidence is the strongest, then we can go on to discuss issues where the evidence is debatable, then finally, in the last bits before the end, we can discuss these other kinds of questions.

How to explain why this process must be followed to the person who asks specific questions about minor issues? Simple. You explain that your goal is not to get them to become a Christian right now. That you want to let them believe anything thing they want. That’s right. They can believe anything they want to believe. As long as what they believe is consistent with the evidence. And what I am going to do is give them the evidence, and then they can believe whatever they want – so long as it’s consistent with the evidence.

So, for example, I’m going to tell them 3 pieces of evidence for a cosmic beginning of the universe: the expanding universe (redshift), the cosmic microwave background radiation, and the light element abundances. That’s mainstream science that shows that the universe came into being out of nothing, a finite time in the past. And I will charge them not to believe in any religion that assumes that the universe has always been here. For example, Mormonism is ruled out, they believe in eternally existing matter. See how that works? Hey, Ms. Atheist. You can believe anything you want. As long as what you believe is consistent with the evidence. 

I think this approach of not letting them rush you to the end at the beginning is important for two reasons. First, we can get our foot in the door to talk about things that are interesting to everyone, in a non-stressed environment. Everyone can talk about evidence comfortably. Second, we show that we hold our beliefs because we are simply letting evidence set boundaries for us on what we are allowed to believe. We can’t believe not-Christianity, because not-Christianity is not consistent with the evidence. And you start with the most well-supported evidence, and eliminate worldviews that are falsified by the most well-supported evidence. Atheism actually gets falsified pretty quickly, because of the scientific evidence.

So, that’s my advice. Had a friend of mine named William try this out about a week ago. It went down like this:

William to me:

This guy I know messaged me and bragged for a while about how easy he can dismantle Christianity. He said: “present the gospel to me as you understand it. I’ll simply ask questions to demonstrate it is not worth your belief.”

WK to William:

First of all, he isn’t allowed to just sit there and poke holes in your case, he has to present a positive case for atheism. Second, don’t discuss Christianity with him at all until you first discuss the evidence for theism – start with the good scientific evidence.

And William wrote this to his friend:

The way I’m wired is that I process all competing theories and go with the best one. By doing a comparative analysis of worldviews I find that Christian theology easily explains the most about the world I find myself living in.

I’m pretty sure that a God of some sort exists because of the scientific evidence for the origin of the universe and the fine tuning in physics. From there I find it quite intuitive that if a God went through the trouble of creating and tuning a universe for life that this God likely has some sort of interest in it and has revealed Himself to humanity in some way.

From there I can look at the major world religions and compare them to see which one explains the past and the present the best. Christianity easily comes out on top.

And then a few days later, I got this from William:

I finally got the agnostic to tell me what he thinks about origin and fine tuning. When I started pointing out that his views were unscientific, he blew a gasket, called me dishonest and told me he didn’t want to discuss anything further.

And that’s where you want to be. Cut off all discussions where the challenger tries to jump to the end and get you to debate the very last steps of your case. Present the strongest evidence for your core claims, and get him to account for this evidence within his own worldview. Lead the discussion with public, testable evidence. All warfare depends on picking the terrain, weapons and tactics that allow you to match your strength against your opponent’s weakness.

Should we have expected Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie to divorce?

Marriage and family
Marriage and family

This article from Family Studies indicates four reasons why we should have expected Brad and Angelina to divorce.

Excerpt:

The Brangelina break-up is like the big earthquake that seismologists missed. Angelina Jolie serving Brad Pitt with divorce papers just two years into their marriage has sent shock waves through the entertainment and parenting press, inspiring panicked headlines like, “If Brad Pitt And Angelina Jolie Can’t Make It, Who Can?”But should we be so surprised?

The unfortunate truth is that if fans of the A-list couple had consulted family and marriage experts, this real-life plot twist might have looked fairly likely, if not predictable. In other words, it was more a matter of when than if.

[…]For starters, Britain’s Marriage Foundation recently conducted a study of 488 A-list celebrities. They found “that celebrities divorce at roughly twice the rate of the rest of us. . . . In the early years of their marriages, divorce among celebs is a lot more than twice as commonplace. During the first three years—as with Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie—some 7 percent of celebs had divorced compared to 2 percent for [the rest of] us.”

Jolie and Pitt also match at least three of the individual risk factors for divorce that University of Denver research professor Scott Stanley, Ph.D., lists on his blog, Sliding vs Deciding. These include: being a child of divorce (as in Jolie’s case), both stars having had “a prior marriage that ended” (this will be Brad’s second divorce, and Jolie’s third), and “[p]rior to marrying, having sex with or cohabiting with someone other than your mate,” which looks applicable to the couple as well. They also match two other divorce risk factors for couples, including “having a child together before marriage,” and cohabiting “before either being married or at least engaged.”

Now, I’ve talked to women about these studies, and I’ve got two different responses from two different groups.

One group of those women says that the research is entirely correct, and that their future decisions need to be guided by the best practices shown in the research. They like that there is some data there that will help them to act in line what the Bible says. One lady I mentored who had an abortion actually started to mistrust her emotions when it came to choosing men and making decisions about whether to commit. We talked through my objectives, then she evaluated men using the best practices from the research. She wanted to make better decisions, and she thought that the problem was her – specifically, her feelings ruining her decision-making. She’s married to a super guy now, and doing great. Her view on emotions now, and I’m quoting, is “emotions are data, but you shouldn’t let them influence your decision-making more than reason and evidence”. Also, her husband is totally spoiled.

Another group of women expressed support for the Bible teachings and but their response to the best practices contained in the research studies is that they are “too strict” and that they only work “within a narrow scope”. And their past usually shows evidence of this habit they have of dismissing moral rules and best practices. Note: converting to Christianity doesn’t automatically change reckless, self-centered behavior. The talk could improve, but the actions could still be irresponsible and narcissistic. The truth is that some women just love to let their emotions control them, and it’s going to cause problems in a marriage if they don’t have self-control. I see a lot of women like this delaying marriage into their early and mid-30s, with no idea about how this affects their value to men. (They seem not to care about what men want from them, or from the marriage, and don’t see investing early in marriage to be a good way to make a difference, because it’s not fun). Marriages are most stable when the marriage takes place in the late 20s – not the mid 30s.

One last point. I have a male friend who also dismisses all the studies, and defends irresponsible Christian women who break all the rules and delay marriage for fun and thrills and travel. “She’s a Christian” he says. “She’s much better than most women I know” he says. “What does it matter if she marries at 40? Maybe she doesn’t want to have kids?” I show him the study about marriages succeeding when the woman is in her mid to late 20s, and he says “Who cares?” I showed him the study about credit score being connected to marital stability, and he dismissed that one, too. “How many of those women in the study are Christians?” he said. And finally “you can’t apply studies to individuals”. I don’t think that he should dismiss the studies like this – I think it will hurt him. For every divorce that happens, and for every case of sex-withholding, there was a man who first said “the studies don’t apply to me”.

The rules really do matter. You can’t dismiss the research studies and escape the consequences of doing so. And don’t assume that a person has learned her lesson just because she has become a Christian – it’s very possible for her to be saying responsible things while doing the same wild, irresponsible decision-making that she was doing as a non-Christian. One woman I know who had plans to literally marry an unemployed, penniless graduate student in his late 20s, told me that “men do have a provider role, and women should prefer men who work and have savings”. She literally introduced him to her parents – that’s how serious she was. Not one dime in his bank account, not one job on his resume. Her words say complementarian, but her actions say radical feminist rebellion against traditional male roles.

So, don’t believe the words, believe the actions. Show the candidate the studies, and look for actions that are in line with the best practices in the studies.

Michael Licona on ancient biography and harmonizing Bible contradictions

Lets take a closer look at a puzzle
Lets take a closer look at a puzzle

Brian Auten posted the latest lecture by Dr. Michael Licona at Apologetics 315. Brian’s site has the MP3 file (48 minutes, 44.5 Mb). I can make a smaller version for anyone who wants it.

Here is the video and my point-form summary.

The topic:

  • Contradictions do not affect the minimum facts case for the resurrection, although they are troubling
  • Most people respond to alleged contradictions by trying to harmonize them
  • Most verses that appear contradictory can be harmonized successfully
  • Some verses cannot be harmonized successfully without really damaging the texts
  • Christians should not gloss over these few real contradictions nor pretend that they don’t exist
  • How should we respond to the verses that cannot easily be harmonized?

Genre considerations:

  • The genre of the gospels is “ancient biography”
  • Ancient biography is not the same genre as modern biography
Insignificant differences

1. Contradictions vs. Differences:

  • In ancient biography, if a source mentions one person’s name, it does not mean that other people were not present
  • Example: one woman versus two women at the tomb, an account may only mention one woman when there are two
  • That is a difference, not a contradiction

2. Time compression:

  • in ancient biography, writers are allowed to leave out events in order to compress time
  • Some gospels omit details (guy version) and other gospels give more details (girl version)
  • For example, the cursing of the fig tree in Mark and Matthew

3. Narrative flow:

  • the ancient biographer’s style was to link together events into a narrative, even if they are slightly out of order
  • This means that the ordering matters less to ancient biographers than forming a coherent narrative
  • For example, the prediction by Jesus that Peter would deny him

Significant differences:

1. Biography allows for portrait painting

  • When people paint portraits, they sometimes use illustrations or imagery to convey the person’s character
  • For example, Shakespeare adds things to his history of Julius Caesar to make it more dramatic
  • For example, the genealogies in Matthew, the portrait of Jesus in the garden in John

2. Even if there are apparent contradictions in an account it doesn’t mean that the basic facts are undermined

  • For example, even if we don’t know for sure if one thief or two thieves cursed Jesus, no one doubts that he was crucified
  • The basic details of the story are not affected by apparent contradictions

Then there is a period of Questions and Answers.

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

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