Tag Archives: Well-Being

Sociologist Rodney Stark discusses whether religion is good for society

Let's take a look at the data
Let’s take a look at the data

Mysterious Chris S. posted this interview with Baylor University sociologist / historian Rodney Stark.

About Rodney Stark:

Rodney Stark grew up in Jamestown, North Dakota, and began his career as a newspaper reporter. Following a tour of duty in the U.S. Army, he received his Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley, where he held appointments as a research sociologist at the Survey Research Center and at the Center for the Study of Law and Society. He left Berkeley to become Professor of Sociology and of Comparative Religion at the University of Washington. In 2004 he joined the faculty of Baylor University. He has published 30 books and more than 140 scholarly articles on subjects as diverse as prejudice, crime, suicide, and city life in ancient Rome. However, the greater part of his work has been on religion. He is past president of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion and of the Association for the Sociology of Religion. He also has won a number of national and international awards for distinguished scholarship. Many of his books and articles have been translated and published in foreign languages, including Chinese, Dutch, French, German, Greek, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Spanish, and Turkish.

Education:

  • B.A. University of Denver, 1959, Journalism.
  • M.A. University of California, Berkeley, 1965, Sociology.
  • Ph.D. University of California, Berkeley, 1971, Sociology.

I don’t count sociologists as non-STEM, since they have to know statistics, which is math. Anyway, onto the interview.

Excerpt:

Q: After examining hundreds of relevant studies, what’s the biggest misconception you’ve found about the typical religious believer?

Rodney Stark: Even some leading evangelical scholars take it for granted that religious Americans are lacking in appreciation for “high culture,” for music, art, literature, and the like. Nothing could be further from the truth. The more often Americans attend religious services, the more likely they are to read newspapers, poetry, novels, and to admire writers. The same applies to liking classical music, to attending symphony concerts, operas, and stage plays, and to dislike rock ‘n roll.

Q: Some recent books, like Christopher Hitchens’ God Is Not Great, suggest that “religion poisons everything.” But your book indicates that religious belief offers society many tangible benefits. What are some of these benefits?

Rodney Stark: Religious Americans are more law abiding, have superior mental and physical health, are far more generous vis-à-vis charities, have much better family life, are more successful, and religious couples even have more satisfactory sex lives!

Q: In the book’s Conclusion you look at religion’s effect on many areas of society—crime, schooling, health, employment, welfare—and you determine that, by a conservative estimate, religion saves America over $2.6 trillion each year. What are some of the biggest contributors to this savings?

Rodney Stark: The biggest by far has to do with the criminal justice system. If all Americans committed crimes at the same level as those who do not attend religious services, the costs of the criminal justice system would about double to, perhaps, $2 trillion annually. Second is health costs. The more often people attend religious services, the healthier they are. However, the net savings involved is reduced somewhat by the fact that religious Americans live, on average, seven years longer than those who never attend religious services.

Previously, I noted how people who attend church or synagogue have much better marriage stability than atheists.

Let’s just review that with some research done by W. Bradford Wilcox:

Married couples who attend church together tend to be happier than couples who rarely or never attend services, according to sociologist W. Bradford Wilcox of the University of Virginia.

Using three nationally representative surveys – the General Social Survey (GSS), the National Survey of Families and Households (NSFH), and the National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG) – Wilcox found that married church-going Americans across denominational and racial classifications were more likely to describe themselves as “very happy” than their non-religious counterparts.

Couples who attended church regularly were also less likely to divorce than couples who seldom attended church services, Wilcox found.

“Attending church only seems to help couples when they attend together,” Wilcox told Cybercast News Service. “But when they do, they are significantly happier in their marriages, and they are much less likely to divorce, compared to couples who do not attend church. I would say that church attendance is a beneficial component of marriage when it is done together.”

Wilcox explained that regular church attendance offers certain positive benefits to a married couple: “Churches supply moral norms like sexual fidelity and forgiveness, family-friendly social networks that lend support to couples facing the ordinary joys and challenges of married life, and a faith that helps couples make sense of the difficulties in their lives-from unemployment to illness-that can harm their marriages.”

“So, in a word, the couple that prays together stays together,” said Wilcox.

[…]”Men and women who hold a religious faith and put that faith into practice by attending church on a regular basis do look different in the marital realm,” Wilcox said.

“At least in the marriage arena, faith alone doesn’t work. You’ve got to combine faith and works to enjoy a happy and stable marriage. You need the consistent message, the accountability, and the support a church community can provide to really benefit from religious faith,” he added.

This Wall Street Journal article from a while back, entitled “Look Who’s Irrational Now” argues that atheists are less skeptical than believers.

Excerpt:

The reality is that the New Atheist campaign, by discouraging religion, won’t create a new group of intelligent, skeptical, enlightened beings. Far from it: It might actually encourage new levels of mass superstition. And that’s not a conclusion to take on faith — it’s what the empirical data tell us.

“What Americans Really Believe,” a comprehensive new study released by Baylor University yesterday, shows that traditional Christian religion greatly decreases belief in everything from the efficacy of palm readers to the usefulness of astrology. It also shows that the irreligious and the members of more liberal Protestant denominations, far from being resistant to superstition, tend to be much more likely to believe in the paranormal and in pseudoscience than evangelical Christians.

The Gallup Organization, under contract to Baylor’s Institute for Studies of Religion, asked American adults a series of questions to gauge credulity. Do dreams foretell the future? Did ancient advanced civilizations such as Atlantis exist? Can places be haunted? Is it possible to communicate with the dead? Will creatures like Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster someday be discovered by science?

The answers were added up to create an index of belief in occult and the paranormal. While 31% of people who never worship expressed strong belief in these things, only 8% of people who attend a house of worship more than once a week did.

Even among Christians, there were disparities. While 36% of those belonging to the United Church of Christ, Sen. Barack Obama’s former denomination, expressed strong beliefs in the paranormal, only 14% of those belonging to the Assemblies of God, Sarah Palin’s former denomination, did. In fact, the more traditional and evangelical the respondent, the less likely he was to believe in, for instance, the possibility of communicating with people who are dead.

[…]Surprisingly, while increased church attendance and membership in a conservative denomination has a powerful negative effect on paranormal beliefs, higher education doesn’t. Two years ago two professors published another study in Skeptical Inquirer showing that, while less than one-quarter of college freshmen surveyed expressed a general belief in such superstitions as ghosts, psychic healing, haunted houses, demonic possession, clairvoyance and witches, the figure jumped to 31% of college seniors and 34% of graduate students.

And naturally, studies show that religious people are both more generous than their secular counterparts.

Can evolution, empathy and well-being account for the existence of moral facts?

J. Warner Wallace: God's Crime Scene
J. Warner Wallace: God’s Crime Scene

J. Warner Wallace is publishing blog posts related to the material covered in his newest book. This latest post is related to that big discussion we had last week about whether atheists can ground objective moral values and objective moral duties.

He writes:

How are we to account for the existence of objective, transcendent moral truths? Some philosophers, like Sam Harris, believe “moral values are really questions about the well-being of conscious creatures.” Well-being (also described as human “flourishing”) is, according to Harris, the purpose of our existence as human beings. Since human biology transcends human culture, moral truths (if they are rooted in human biology), would also transcend culture. As a result, we can account for the existence of objective, transcendent moral truths without having to ground them in a transcendent moral truth-giver (like God). Harris believes these kinds of truths are simply grounded in the well-being of our entire species, and according to Harris, can be ascertained and apprehended by simply studying the science of human flourishing. Harris argues “that science can, in principle, help us understand what we should do and should want—and, therefore, what other people should do and should want in order to live the best lives possible. There are right and wrong answers to moral questions, just as there are right and wrong answers to questions of physics, and such answers may one day fall within reach of the maturing sciences of mind.” But this attempt to ground objective, transcendent moral truths in human biological flourishing is misguided for several reasons…

Here’s one of the reasons:

This View Assumes a Moral Definition of “Well-Being”
What is Harris’ definition of “well-being” in the first place? Is it merely survival, or is it a particular kind of survival? Even philosophers who hold this view readily admit some behaviors (like subjugating slaves and stealing the resources of opposing groups) can actually aid in the survival of a people group. But these same thinkers simultaneously believe these kinds of behaviors are detrimental to the group’s well-being. This implies, however, there’s a right way to survive and a wrong way. Did you spot the logical inconsistency here? Those who believe the pursuit of human well-being is the origin of moral truth, begin with a definition of well-being already infused with moral truth. Who gets to determine the right or wrong way to survive or flourish? This approach to moral truth argues for something more than mere biological survival of the fittest. It argues for a kind of moral survival (described as “well-being”) before it has adequately explained the source for moral truth.

The minute you are talking about well-being, you have smuggled in a concept of what counts as good, and what counts as evil.

And here’s another reason:

This View Fails to Determine Whose Well-Being Is Most Important
Why would any of us consider the well-being of strangers prior to the well-being of our own families and communities? If history is any indicator, humans are far more inclined to care for themselvesthan for others, even when the activities of their own group may ultimately harm the survivability of the entire species. Who gets to define “flourishing” when cultures and individuals disagree about notions of happiness, compassion, contentedness, or physical and psychological health? When competing interests collide, whose definitions (and whose well-being) warrants our consideration? As philosopher Patricia Churchland observes, “no one has the slightest idea how to compare the mild headache of five million against the broken legs of two, or the needs of one’s own two children against the needs of a hundred unrelated brain-damaged children in Serbia.”

Even if we are only interested in the well-being of an isolated group, should we be more concerned about total well-being or average well-being of the group? Those concerned with total well-being prefer a world in which the most people possible are able to live with at least moderate well-being. Those concerned with average well-being prefer a world in which smaller groups maximize their well-being, even if others suffer, so the average for the species is elevated. If we derive moral value from an action’s impact on the well-being of the entire species, why should I, as a law enforcement officer, care at all about murdered gang members such as Jesse’s victim? Shouldn’t I be more focused on the fate of those better educated, wealthier or more intelligent contributors to our society than those who are actually preying on our society? Aren’t those in the first group more likely to contribute to the well-being of our species than those in the second? Assessing an action’s moral value on the basis of its ultimate consequence is nearly impossible to accomplish and leads to disturbing discrimination.

In fact, the “well-being” view pushed by Sam Harris and others is really just utilitarianism, and I posted something about the many problems with that view previously.

Why does objective morality matter? Well consider a previous post where I looked at a debate between Matt Dillahunty and David Robertson. Robertson asked Dillahunty whether it was an objective fact that Dachau, a Nazi concentration camp, was morally evil. Dillahunty’s reply? “I don’t know”. And that is consistent with his atheistic view. The answer to EVERY question about moral facts for an atheist is “I don’t know”. They have to not know. If they did know, then God would have to exist to ground that moral fact, because it would exist independent of personal preferences and cultural customs.They have to say I don’t know, or give up their atheism. And that’s why moral facts are nowhere grounded in an atheistic worldview. They use the words, but the words refer to nothing that exists independent of personal preferences and cultural conventions – which vary over time and place.  If you agree with Dillahunty’s ignorance about whether concentration camps are moral evils as a matter of fact, then you can be an atheist.

God’s Crime Scene

Some really good blog posts are coming out on Cold Case Christianity blog related to this new book. Just judging from the table of contents and the podcast he did on it, it looks like it covers 8 of the good, substantial arguments for God’s existence. I always like the science arguments more than the history arguments, and history arguments more than the philosophical arguments, because I’m an engineer. Really looking forward to a quiet weekend with this new book. I got the audio edition in addition to the book itself.

Sociologist Rodney Stark discusses whether religion is good for society

Mysterious Chris S. posted this interview with Baylor University sociologist / historian Rodney Stark.

About Rodney Stark:

Rodney Stark grew up in Jamestown, North Dakota, and began his career as a newspaper reporter. Following a tour of duty in the U.S. Army, he received his Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley, where he held appointments as a research sociologist at the Survey Research Center and at the Center for the Study of Law and Society. He left Berkeley to become Professor of Sociology and of Comparative Religion at the University of Washington. In 2004 he joined the faculty of Baylor University. He has published 30 books and more than 140 scholarly articles on subjects as diverse as prejudice, crime, suicide, and city life in ancient Rome. However, the greater part of his work has been on religion. He is past president of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion and of the Association for the Sociology of Religion. He also has won a number of national and international awards for distinguished scholarship. Many of his books and articles have been translated and published in foreign languages, including Chinese, Dutch, French, German, Greek, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Spanish, and Turkish.

Education:

  • B.A. University of Denver, 1959, Journalism.
  • M.A. University of California, Berkeley, 1965, Sociology.
  • Ph.D. University of California, Berkeley, 1971, Sociology.

Excerpt:

Q: After examining hundreds of relevant studies, what’s the biggest misconception you’ve found about the typical religious believer?

Rodney Stark: Even some leading evangelical scholars take it for granted that religious Americans are lacking in appreciation for “high culture,” for music, art, literature, and the like. Nothing could be further from the truth. The more often Americans attend religious services, the more likely they are to read newspapers, poetry, novels, and to admire writers. The same applies to liking classical music, to attending symphony concerts, operas, and stage plays, and to dislike rock ‘n roll.

Q: Some recent books, like Christopher Hitchens’ God Is Not Great, suggest that “religion poisons everything.” But your book indicates that religious belief offers society many tangible benefits. What are some of these benefits?

Rodney Stark: Religious Americans are more law abiding, have superior mental and physical health, are far more generous vis-à-vis charities, have much better family life, are more successful, and religious couples even have more satisfactory sex lives!

Q: In the book’s Conclusion you look at religion’s effect on many areas of society—crime, schooling, health, employment, welfare—and you determine that, by a conservative estimate, religion saves America over $2.6 trillion each year. What are some of the biggest contributors to this savings?

Rodney Stark: The biggest by far has to do with the criminal justice system. If all Americans committed crimes at the same level as those who do not attend religious services, the costs of the criminal justice system would about double to, perhaps, $2 trillion annually. Second is health costs. The more often people attend religious services, the healthier they are. However, the net savings involved is reduced somewhat by the fact that religious Americans live, on average, seven years longer than those who never attend religious services.

Previously, I noted how people who attend church or synagogue have much better marriage stability than atheists.

Let’s just review that with some research done by W. Bradford Wilcox:

Married couples who attend church together tend to be happier than couples who rarely or never attend services, according to sociologist W. Bradford Wilcox of the University of Virginia.

Using three nationally representative surveys – the General Social Survey (GSS), the National Survey of Families and Households (NSFH), and the National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG) – Wilcox found that married church-going Americans across denominational and racial classifications were more likely to describe themselves as “very happy” than their non-religious counterparts.

Couples who attended church regularly were also less likely to divorce than couples who seldom attended church services, Wilcox found.

“Attending church only seems to help couples when they attend together,” Wilcox told Cybercast News Service. “But when they do, they are significantly happier in their marriages, and they are much less likely to divorce, compared to couples who do not attend church. I would say that church attendance is a beneficial component of marriage when it is done together.”

Wilcox explained that regular church attendance offers certain positive benefits to a married couple: “Churches supply moral norms like sexual fidelity and forgiveness, family-friendly social networks that lend support to couples facing the ordinary joys and challenges of married life, and a faith that helps couples make sense of the difficulties in their lives-from unemployment to illness-that can harm their marriages.”

“So, in a word, the couple that prays together stays together,” said Wilcox.

[…]”Men and women who hold a religious faith and put that faith into practice by attending church on a regular basis do look different in the marital realm,” Wilcox said.

“At least in the marriage arena, faith alone doesn’t work. You’ve got to combine faith and works to enjoy a happy and stable marriage. You need the consistent message, the accountability, and the support a church community can provide to really benefit from religious faith,” he added.

This Wall Street Journal article from a while back, entitled “Look Who’s Irrational Now” argues that atheists are less skeptical than believers.

Excerpt:

The reality is that the New Atheist campaign, by discouraging religion, won’t create a new group of intelligent, skeptical, enlightened beings. Far from it: It might actually encourage new levels of mass superstition. And that’s not a conclusion to take on faith — it’s what the empirical data tell us.

“What Americans Really Believe,” a comprehensive new study released by Baylor University yesterday, shows that traditional Christian religion greatly decreases belief in everything from the efficacy of palm readers to the usefulness of astrology. It also shows that the irreligious and the members of more liberal Protestant denominations, far from being resistant to superstition, tend to be much more likely to believe in the paranormal and in pseudoscience than evangelical Christians.

The Gallup Organization, under contract to Baylor’s Institute for Studies of Religion, asked American adults a series of questions to gauge credulity. Do dreams foretell the future? Did ancient advanced civilizations such as Atlantis exist? Can places be haunted? Is it possible to communicate with the dead? Will creatures like Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster someday be discovered by science?

The answers were added up to create an index of belief in occult and the paranormal. While 31% of people who never worship expressed strong belief in these things, only 8% of people who attend a house of worship more than once a week did.

Even among Christians, there were disparities. While 36% of those belonging to the United Church of Christ, Sen. Barack Obama’s former denomination, expressed strong beliefs in the paranormal, only 14% of those belonging to the Assemblies of God, Sarah Palin’s former denomination, did. In fact, the more traditional and evangelical the respondent, the less likely he was to believe in, for instance, the possibility of communicating with people who are dead.

[…]Surprisingly, while increased church attendance and membership in a conservative denomination has a powerful negative effect on paranormal beliefs, higher education doesn’t. Two years ago two professors published another study in Skeptical Inquirer showing that, while less than one-quarter of college freshmen surveyed expressed a general belief in such superstitions as ghosts, psychic healing, haunted houses, demonic possession, clairvoyance and witches, the figure jumped to 31% of college seniors and 34% of graduate students.

And naturally, studies show that religious people are both more generous than their secular counterparts.