I just saw a post over at Sacerdotus that saddens me. I’m not going to excerpt it because of the explicitly-stated licensing conditions on the front page, but it’s a brief read, and I suggest you take a look at it now.
The post is titled “With Age Comes Wisdom,” which was based on an article that Sacerdotus read at The Huffington Post, which I will excerpt from after the jump:
Across the world, people have varying levels of belief (and disbelief) in God, with some nations being more devout than others. But new research reveals one constant across parts of the globe: As people age, their belief in God seems to increase.
The new study is based on data collected as part of the General Social Survey by researchers at the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) at the University of Chicago.
The researchers looked at data from 30 countries where surveys, taken at two or more time points between 1991 and 2008, asked residents about their belief in God. Participants answered three main “belief” questions, including their level of belief (from strong to atheistic), their changing beliefs over their lifetime and their attitude toward the notion that God is concerned with their personal lives.
Age seemed to be a big factor in belief. Belief in God was highest among older adults, with 43 percent of those 68 and older saying they are certain that God exists, compared with 23 percent of those 27 and younger, averaged across the countries surveyed.
The problems begin with “which god,” and multiply from there.
“Looking at differences among age groups, the largest increases in belief in God most often occur among those 58 years of age and older,” Smith said in a statement, referring to the change in belief between the 58 to 67 age group and those 68 and older. “This suggests that belief in God is especially likely to increase among the oldest groups, perhaps in response to the increasing anticipation of mortality.” [8 Ways Religion Impacts Your Life]
Do click on that link there, and cycle through it. #4 is a good example of the strangeness:
If you’re religious, thinking about God can help soothe the anxiety associated with making mistakes. In other words, believers can fall back on their faith to deal with setbacks gracefully, according to a 2010 study. This trick doesn’t work for atheists, though: The study also found that nonbelievers were more stressed out when they thought of God and made mistakes.
That article it links to? The actual results and limitations of the study are predictably more complicated than the shorter blurb would have us believe:
The results showed that when people were primed to think about religion and God, either consciously or unconsciously, brain activity decreases in areas consistent with the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC). The ACC is associated with a number of things, including regulating bodily states of arousal and alerting us when things are going wrong.
Interestingly, atheists reacted differently. When they were unconsciously primed with God-related ideas, their ACC increased its activity. The researchers suggest that for religious people, thinking about God may provide a way of ordering the world and explaining apparently random events and thus reduce their feelings of distress.
In contrast, for atheists, thoughts of God may contradict the meaning systems they embrace and thus cause them more distress.
“Thinking about religion makes you calm under fire. It makes you less distressed when you’ve made an error,” says Inzlicht.
“We think this can help us understand some of the really interesting findings about people who are religious. Although not unequivocal, there is some evidence that religious people live longer and they tend to be happier and healthier.”
Atheists shouldn’t despair, though. “We think this can occur with any meaning system that provides structure and helps people understand their world.” Maybe atheists would do better if they were primed to think about their own beliefs, he says.
I wonder how well Shi’a Muslims would do in a task where they’re prompted to examine Sunni writings, or Catholics having to analyze the Mormon conception of gods (yes, gods). I suspect the results would be entertaining.1 Back to Sacerdotus.
He then goes on to say that this is a good thing, but that atheists seem to have a problem with “object permanence” (which is the simple realization that something you can’t see doesn’t necessarily not exist), and that a lack of belief exhibits “intellectual immaturity and sloth.”2 Do you want to know what exhibits “intellectual immaturity and sloth?” Conflating the cognitive development stage at which a child realizes that something hidden hasn’t really vanished with the idea that a being whose existence must be taken on faith alone might exist.3 Seriously, the two concepts are different. One involves the mental differentiation between how you see the world and how you think of it (and by extension the realization that the world is a thing that exists beyond what you perceive and desire), or as Phillip K. Dick put it, “Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.” Faith is belief without requiring evidence. There’s a third possibility, open-mindedness, which is being willing to admit a lack of complete knowledge on a subject and therefore being open to the examination of new evidence. I’m not sure which of the latter two Sacerdotus is talking about, but if they can’t tell the difference between those three things, then perhaps a little mental development might be in order.
Either way, I’m pretty sure Sacerdotus is paranoid.
1. For me, at least.
2. Insert the immature and emotionally satisfying epithets of your choice here.
3. A god (or gods) might indeed exist. The question is, which one(s)? If any do exist, my money is on “none of those so far mentioned.”