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Brain plasticity, aging and health

September 16th, 2013

Smiling older man

My post on Your brain, faith and disbelief generated some critical comment. The problem wasn’t so much with the main point of the post (that neuroplasticity appears to explain some of why believers and unbelievers are so polarised about God) but a side comment that there are demonstrated mental and physical health advantages in belief and prayer – and that unbelievers, generally, miss out on these benefits.

I thought it would be good to clarify and detail these findings.

Sculpting our brain

We sculpt our brains, knowingly or not, according to what we focus on and how we think about things. As we grow older, we can develop habitual ways of thinking that we can find hard to change, and limit our ability to accept new ideas and embrace new experiences.

Conversely, we can train our brains so that we improve memory and intelligence, learn new skills, recover lost abilities, slow the onset of aging, repair damaged areas and improve our response to illness and disabilities.

Neuroplasticity and aging

When we are young, our brains are still very plastic. As we have new experiences, new pathways are formed that facilitate our responses and make it easier to learn new skills. That is why giving our children stimulating experiences is so important to their development.

Our brains remain plastic as we age, but much less so, and if we are not careful, we become very set in our ways and our thinking. So psychologists and neuroscientists have developed techniques to help us slow the aging process and keep our brains plastic and alert. Doing crosswords and other puzzles, reading, meeting new people, etc, are all useful, but apparently the best results come from more challenging activities like learning a language, learning to dance, or following one of the specially developed computer-based programs. And of course, regular exercise.

Neuroplasticity and God

Neuroplasticity is relevant to belief in God, and disbelief, in two ways.

Keeping a flexible mind

Believers and unbelievers are both liable to become fixed in their thinking if they are not careful, as outlined in Your brain, faith and disbelief. Both can focus so much on what they believe, or disbelieve, that their neural pathways become so reinforced that they are unable to see an opposing viewpoint. This may be a greater problem for unbelievers, who generally value rational thinking above all else, than for believers, for whom rational thinking is just a part of how they know things.

The remedies appear to be to not allow our focus and thinking to be too narrow and to keep challenging ourselves. Keeping an open mind suggests some ways we can assess whether we have open or closed minds.

Faith and wellbeing

Studies have shown that focusing on God, and participating in religious or spiritual activities like attending church, praying or meditating, have generally positive effects on our brains and on our health. I have summarised some of these at Faith and wellbeing.

In their book How God Changes Your Brain: Breakthrough Findings from a Leading Neuroscientist, Newberg and Waldman describe many of the positives of religious belief and practice:

  • “hundreds of medical, neurological, psychological and sociological studies on religion [show] …. even minimal religious participation is correlated with enhancing longevity and personal health.” (p 149)
  • “Activities involving meditation and intensive prayer permanently strengthen neural functioning in specific parts of the brain that are involved with lowering anxiety and depression, enhancing social awareness and empathy, and improving cognitive and intellectual functioning. The neural circuits activated by meditation buffer you from the deleterious effects of ageing and stress …..” (p 149)
  • “If you contemplate God long enough, something surprising happens in the brain. …. New dendrites are formed, new synaptic connections are made, and the brain becomes more sensitive to subtle realms of experience.” (p 3)
  • “Intense, long-term contemplation of God and other spiritual values appears to permanently change the structure of those parts of the brain that control our moods ….” (p 7)
  • “the health benefits associated with meditation and religious ritual cannot be denied.” (p 7)

Detrimental effects of religious belief

There are some detrimental aspects of religious belief, but not as many as commonly supposed. The same authors say:

  • “a spate of antireligious books …. argue that religious beliefs are personally and societally dangerous. But the research ….. strongly suggests otherwise.” (p 6)
  • “involvement with religious and spiritual activities generally does no harm, unless …. you focus on an authoritarian God who fills you with anger and fear” (p 149)

What’s an unbeliever to do?

Thus the evidence doesn’t show that unbelief lowers a person’s wellbeing, but it does indicate that unbelievers often miss out on the beneficial effects of religious belief and practice. This is not a message that many unbelievers want to hear, but it is futile to deny the evidence.

But all isn’t lost. Even if an unbeliever is unwilling or unable to come to belief in God, they can adopt at least some of the practices. As Newberg and Waldman say (p 149): “the health benefits associated with prayer and meditation can be achieved through activities that are unrelated to religion”

I’m not sure how an unbelievers can contemplate God in any positive way, or pray, except perhaps to themselves (which may actually work to improve mental health), but they can clearly meditate and forgive.

Discipline is the trick

Believers have one advantage – some beneficial practices (attend church, think about God) require little personal discipline. But many believers find it notoriously hard to find the time and discipline to pray or meditate regularly. In this, and in practices to delay the effects of aging, believers and unbelievers are in the same boat – little will be achieved without self discipline.

Photo Credit: doc(q)man via Compfight cc

48 Comments

  1. @unkleE, “Both can focus so much on what they believe, or disbelieve, that their neural pathways become so reinforced that they are unable to see an opposing viewpoint. This may be a greater problem for unbelievers, who generally value rational thinking above all else, than for believers, for whom rational thinking is just a part of how they know things.

    The remedies appear to be to not allow our focus and thinking to be too narrow and to keep challenging ourselves. Keeping an open mind suggests some ways we can assess whether we have open or closed minds.”

    Where I see a problem on this subject is this. Whether you intend to or not, the way subject is laid out makes the reader think that unbelievers were always this way and as they grow older their unbelief hardens making it difficult to understand the believer’s position.

    In reality I think many nonbelievers were originally believers. Because they were open to learning and seeking the truth , they allowed their Neuroplasticity to evolve their thinking .

    To the contrary, I think many believers have always been believers and through mind conditioning from their parents, priests / ministers , churches, church schools, Mosques, Imams, they were able to block the Neuroplasticity of their brain and harden their stance on their beliefs.

    As a Deist and I will take a risk and speak for atheists too, I found through personal study that I could no long accept the validity of Christianity. Once I came to this conclusion, I didn’t need to constantly reinforce my position. It will remain unless some new knowledge would cause me to rethink it. On the contrary, a believer needs constant reinforcement (teaching, fellowship, etc) in order to maintain his belief system.

    I don’t have any study or evidence to back this up, but if I did I’m sure you could find a study to refute it. Let’s just say I’m basing my opinion on 50 years of observation and study.

    To say that rational thinking for believers is just a part of how they know things is hardly the case. Mind conditioning has been the tool of choice at least in Christianity and Islam to keep the believers “in the fold” .

    Thanks for allowing me to voice my opinion.

  2. Hi Ken, you are welcome to voice your opinion. I didn’t intend to give any impression about how believers or unbelievers were once. My interest was only in the present and future.

    But I don’t think it makes any difference. Our openness of mind in the past doesn’t change our brains in the future. The lessons of neuroplasticity need to be applied now, and “mind conditioning”, conscious or unconscious, can occur with unbelievers just as much as believers. In both cases, what matters is what people focus on and what thoughts they refuse to consider.

  3. Thank you for your response unkleE but I don’t agree with your assertion that mind conditioning occurs with unbelievers as much as believers.

    As I said previously, many unbelievers were once believers. Mind conditioning may have played a role in their lives earlier, but obviously broke down enough where they rationally decided to become a nonbeliever.

    I remember you yourself once said if you weren’t a Christian you would at least be a Deist or Agnostic. I think you are closer to being one of those two than you care to admit.

    I went through several years of sitting on the fence before I finally realized I could no longer defend a religion using reason. It wasn’t very fun at the time. Now that I am past this point , I have an inner peace like I have never had before. I still believe in a Creator and am greatful every day for my existance. Now that I have taken ownership in my actions, I try to make everyday count. Redemption is something I still ask from people when I make mistakes. It’s no longer something I take for granted that God will give to me if I just ask and yet live my life anyway I choose. I don’t dwell on the possibility of an afterlife . Right now is what counts. I have lived among too many Christians who weren’t too concerned about making this life count because they were more interested in a better one ahead.

  4. Thus the evidence doesn’t show that unbelief lowers a person’s wellbeing, but it does indicate that unbelievers often miss out on the beneficial effects of religious belief and practice. This is not a message that many unbelievers want to hear, but it is futile to deny the evidence.

    For me, this is the only paragraph of any real consequence.
    Sadly, the rest appears a little skewed to distil an outcome that is religious in its leaning, and your final sentence is a tad patronizing and I feel unwarranted under the circumstances.

    I suppose it should be expected, as you are a Christian but overall the post seems just a bit biased, I’m afraid.
    Here’s why:
    1) You have omitted to identify which god/s the authors are referring to, ergo which god/s people are praying to.

    As there are a great many gods which would be the correct one?
    And why should a person pick one over the other?
    Or is this just a general panacea based simply on any god will do belief’

    The details regarding meditation verses prayer seem balanced. And I for one do meditate, as I have already mentioned to you.
    As I do not be believe in any gods the thought of praying to one would be very silly to me and I feel sure I would end up laughing at the nonsense of it.

    As would regularly partaking in any form of religious ceremony. Although I do occasionally go to Church. But those times that I have attended, (Christian) weddings, baptism etc of friends or relations usually, have often made me feel distinctly uncomfortable when prayers are called as I feel acknowledging a god-man is tantamount to delusion.
    I usually switch off and admire the architecture.
    I would rather deal with reality.
    That’s just me, of course, I cannot speak for others.

    Yet, taking quiet time, centring my body and focussing on positive things is an excellent method for detoxing and unwinding. As is yoga, and running. Listening to and playing classical music has known benefits that are conducive to mental well-being. And I also play classical guitar.

    Each one helps clear my mind, increases creativity and thus aids in my physical well-being too.

    In conclusion; while a believer will benefit simply because they do believe (this is what faith is all about, surely?) it seems highly illogical to boldly assert that a non-believer is ‘missing out’ on anything pertaining to religion that couldn’t be gleaned from a wide variety of other outlets.
    In fact, those that have turned their back on it did so because it was making their lives a misery and they would likely tell you that they feel a million times happier now that they are rid of the realm of the superstitious.

    It would be interesting if the same authors did a comparative survey of the mental well-being of deconvertees after they are free of the inculcation they grew up with?

    Food for thought, though.
    Interesting post.

  5. I don’t agree with your assertion that mind conditioning occurs with unbelievers as much as believers.

    As far as can understand, Ken, it is occurring to everyone all the time, the only question is, how are we ‘sculpting’ our brains? Are we reinforcing what is already there or are we challenging our brains with new things?

    I remember you yourself once said if you weren’t a Christian you would at least be a Deist or Agnostic. I think you are closer to being one of those two than you care to admit.

    I’m curious about this comment. Could you explain it a little more please? Thanks.

  6. Food for thought, though. Interesting post.

    Thanks. I think giving people food for thought would probably be my main purpose in this blog.

    You have omitted to identify which god/s the authors are referring to, ergo which god/s people are praying to.

    For these studies it appears to be just belief in God and religious/spiritual/meditative practices which generally go with that. Non-believers can do some of the practices, but probably not others, as you point out. I would guess some religions would “work” better than others – e.g. not all Buddhists believe in God, and I get the impression Hindu worship may not always be prayerful or meditative. These studies say nothing about whether belief in God is true or not.

    it seems highly illogical to boldly assert that a non-believer is ‘missing out’ on anything pertaining to religion that couldn’t be gleaned from a wide variety of other outlets

    But you have already pointed out that you as an unbeliever cannot follow some of the beneficial practices or beliefs, so you miss whatever benefits come from them. As I said, and as you say here, there are still practices unbelievers can do, but it must be true that they are not all doing them, otherwise the statistics would be different. I think it is clear that christians generally spend more time in the sum total of beneficial practices (prayer, meditation, religious ritual, mutual support, forgiveness, belief, contemplating God, etc) than do non-believers.

  7. I think it is clear that christians generally spend more time in the sum total of beneficial practices (prayer, meditation, religious ritual, mutual support, forgiveness, belief, contemplating God, etc) than do non-believers.

    Smile, well obviously as a non-believer is not going to be involved with anything to do with a god.

    Therefore any beneficial aspects cannot be measured on a non-believer as they don’t believe and thus would not be involved.

    But non-believers (can) still practice all the things you have listed except,prayer,religious ritual and contemplating God.
    And I would venture that many Christians don’t go to church or get involved in fellowship or even pray that often.
    So in actual fact, as the study shows, the non-believers are not really missing out on anything truly quantifiable at all, and certainly not suffering an from any lack thereof.
    It’s a bit like saying we are missing out on the wonderful benefits of Oranges because they have unique benefits, but the same level of benefits (mental well being) can be acquired from eating Apples.
    As I mentioned, the results, while not false by any means, are a little misleading from the viewpoint of trying to demonstrate that god belief is better than non-belief, which is clearly not the case.

  8. “In their book How God Changes Your Brain: Breakthrough Findings from a Leading Neuroscientist, Newberg and Waldman describe many of the positives of religious belief and practice:”

    Both of these Doctors are professing christians who have websites for peddling their books, dvd’s, etc. What would you expect them to say ??? They are “preaching to the choir” and making money from it.

    It would be nice to see an unbiased independent study on this subject. Why not do it for the sake of seeking the truth instead of trying to sell your books, etc and trying to make a dollar.

    Is this a medical study which has been peer reviewed ?

  9. Here are some of their other book titles:
    Born to Believe: God, Science, and the Origin of Ordinary and Extraordinary Beliefs
    Why God Won’t Go Away: Brain Science and the Biology of Belief
    How God Changes Your Brain: Breakthrough Findings from a Leading Neuroscientist How God Changes You

    Why didn’t he say from a leading neuroscientist AND DEVOUTE CHRISTIAN ??? Because he wouldn’t sell as many books. That’s why.

    You’ve been stacking the deck again unkleE .

  10. I will agree with one of their statements, “In fact, the brain doesn’t even try to create a fully detailed map of the external world. Instead, it selects a handful of cues, then fills in the rest with conjecture, fantasy, and be-lief.”

    I intend to order one of their books before I offer further comment.

  11. Why didn’t he say from a leading neuroscientist AND DEVOUTE CHRISTIAN ??? ….. I stand corrected. It is unclear if they are christians or jews until further research is done.

    Actually Ken, it is quite clear and I already said this. Waldman is an atheist and Newberg is an agnostic – it says so on page 6 of the book.

    But do you see what has happened here? You jumped to a quick conclusion, seemingly without doing any more than checking the titles of their books, you accused them of bias and subterfuge, and you accused me of “stacking the deck again”.

    Now I accept that you “stood corrected” and I take no offence. But perhaps there is a lesson here.

  12. I can already see the smirk on your face. “Is there a lesson to be learned here ?”

    The lesson is , a former believer has old habits that are hard to break. Christianity has left a bad taste in my mouth because in today’s world , at least in the USA, Christianity is Big Business. Most popular Christians are anxious to get a book published and make a buck no matter how they shade the truth. If Jesus really were a historical person, (and he might have been), he would be greatly saddened to where Christianity is today. And people like you don’t want to see or admit the damage it has done to millions over the past 2000 years.

    Yes, I jumped the gun and I admitted this.

    I suppose you have never been guilty of this yourself ?

  13. On page 6 they say, “For example, though I am not specifically religious, I’m open to the possibility that God may exist, whereas Mark, my colleague and co-researcher, prefers to look at the universe through a purely naturalistic and evidence-based perspective. Yet we both appreciate and encourage religious and spiritual development—as long as it does not denigrate the lives or religious beliefs of others.”

    The last sentence is exactly what Christianity and Islam have done. They believe their paths are the only true paths to God and have historically intruded on the lives and religious beliefs of others.

  14. the results, while not false by any means, are a little misleading from the viewpoint of trying to demonstrate that god belief is better than non-belief, which is clearly not the case

    Thanks for this response. And it seems we agree about most of this.

    I certainly agree that the results don’t “demonstrate that god belief is better than non-belief”, and I have said exactly that several times. That wasn’t the purpose.

    I was thinking about all the atheists who make statements about the dangers and harm caused by God belief – you have made a few such in these discussions. They make these statements with very little, if any, objective scientific evidence.

    So I make contrary statements with the support of good scientific evidence to contest those unsupported claims, to show that these atheistic arguments have minimal support. That’s reasonable, don’t you think? And even educational.

  15. I can already see the smirk on your face. “Is there a lesson to be learned here ?”

    Ken, I’m sorry if I aggravated you, but if you can accuse me of being dishonest, surely I can make a mild comment suggesting you think again? After all, blog comments are about influencing each other.

    If Jesus really were a historical person, (and he might have been), he would be greatly saddened to where Christianity is today. And people like you don’t want to see or admit the damage it has done to millions over the past 2000 years.

    Here is another case where you accuse me without understanding my position. I agree with much of what you say here. The christian church has done some very bad things, and still is. I think things are very bad in the US (are you American? I don’t think I recall), and I would find it difficult to be a member of most US churches. But there are also some very different and good US churches, even if they are the minority.

    I have looked at the relative track records of christianity and unbelief in Belief vs unbelief, and summarised in Does religion poison everything?, where I concluded:

    “Many of the evils perpetrated by both believers and unbelievers seem to be more due to political, national or personal causes than to religion or lack of it. Christianity is seen to its best advantage when individual believers follow the teachings of Jesus, and is at its worst when allied with the power of the state. The same is true to some degree of unbelief.”

    I suppose you have never been guilty of this yourself ?

    * Ruefully * Many times. But you have done it before in discussions with me, and I was hoping we might be able to avoid it in the future.

  16. I was thinking about all the atheists who make statements about the dangers and harm caused by God belief – you have made a few such in these discussions. They make these statements with very little, if any, objective scientific evidence.

    Smile, trying to pose a leading question? as Lawyers are wont to say, “I object , Your Honour!”

    The harm can be measured. Let’s take Fundamentalism for instance.
    Are you truly suggesting that belief in Creationism is not</em? harmful?
    Are you suggesting that Children who have gone through the process of inculcation of this form of Christianity are not handicapped when they enter mainstream society?
    That their indoctrinated belief in biblical literalism will not have adverse effects in man y forms of their development?
    Have you made an investigation about ACE, for instance? They have such facilities in Australia and I am sure I have even mentioned as much on a previous comment? If I am mistaken then I
    strongly suggest you take a look.
    Although I am not a great fan of Wiki and it credibility it is often a good “Go-To site” to begin any investigation.
    Try this, and you will quickly see what nonsense these people are foisting on kids. It is abominable.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Accelerated_Christian_Education
    Therefore, I sincerely hope you are not suggesting god belief per se is beneficial otherwise you might be seen as pushing this with an ulterior motive and any reader has every right to “Foul!”

    So I make contrary statements with the support of good scientific evidence to contest those unsupported claims, to show that these atheistic arguments have minimal support. That’s reasonable, don’t you think? And even educational.

    Unsupported evidence? You disregard ordinary commonsense so blithely?
    We have discussed issues of religion and war before, so I won’t drag this on.
    Anyone who is capable of killing in the name of a god is mentally unstable and there are many, many examples of Islamic terrorists who have demonstrated not only their willingness to die for ‘Allah’ but also to kill by using children and other innocents to further their aims. Yes, I know politics is usually involved as well, yet the simple fact that many of these people are brainwashed with ‘God Belief’ is undeniable.
    And one could just as easily produce examples across every religion, past and present.
    This is clear and definite evidence to refute any claim that “these atheistic arguments have minimal support.”

    That’s reasonable, don’t you think? And even educational.”

    Reasonable? No, I am afraid not.
    Educational? Oh yes. Most definitely. But not in the way such studies are trying to lead the unsuspecting reader.

    In conclusion. I think we should be able to agree-and a broader look at this topic would confirms it – that while there are undeniable benefits for many believers, god belief is not a blanket panacea and clearly the down side can be equally as destructive with devastating results, both mentally and physically.

    Based on current statistics humanity is generally moving away from god belief so I guess we will eventually have to make do without the limited benefits and focus on other things that will provide long term mental well being: empathy, compassion, tolerance, love for our fellow man etc.
    Evolution has demonstrated that humans are excellent at adapting so the odds are pretty high that we will eventually adapt to a life without god belief. If this is the case, so be it.

  17. “I think it is clear that christians generally spend more time in the sum total of beneficial practices (prayer, meditation, religious ritual, mutual support, forgiveness, belief, contemplating God, etc) than do non-believers.”

    This is a good example of the type of blanket and somewhat loaded statement you throw out there . When you begin a statement with, “I think it is clear” tells me you’re not just sharing your opinion but that the statement is reasonable enough or there is substantial evidence to be accepted as truth. Can you provide me the basis for this claim since it’s not “clear to everyone” because it’s not clear to me ?

    I would agree with prayer and religious ritual if you are excluding other religions from the category of “non-believers” .

    If on the other hand you are saying that everyone who is not a christian would be classified as a non-believer , you might have an argument from a lot of non-believers who pray 5 times each day or spend a considerable time in meditation. How would you even be able to compare time spent on religious ritual ?

  18. Hi Far King. My reading of the evidence I have referenced is that it says (in summary)

    1. Certain religious and spiritual beliefs and practices (prayer, meditation, attendance at rituals, forgiveness, belief, contemplation of God, etc) generally have beneficial mental and physical health outcomes.
    2. Religious and spiritual people generally have better mental and spiritual health than average, and hence better generally than non-religious and non-spiritual people.
    3. These outcomes are true in the majority of cases, but there are a minority of cases when they are not true. The one minority I can recall being mentioned was belief in an authoritarian God which makes people angry and fearful.

    I therefore draw the conclusion that:

    4. The examples you quote are a minority of cases.

    Which of those 4 statements do you disagree with (if any), and what evidence would you point to in support of your disagreement?

  19. This is a good example of the type of blanket and somewhat loaded statement you throw out there . When you begin a statement with, “I think it is clear” tells me you’re not just sharing your opinion but that the statement is reasonable enough or there is substantial evidence to be accepted as truth. Can you provide me the basis for this claim since it’s not “clear to everyone” because it’s not clear to me ?

    Hi Ken, I’m not sure why you would contest this statement, it seems quite uncontentious to me. The logic and evidence for it is quite clear:

    1. Certain religious and spiritual beliefs and practices (prayer, meditation, attendance at rituals, forgiveness, belief, contemplation of God, etc) generally have beneficial mental and physical health outcomes.

    2. Religious and spiritual people generally have better mental and spiritual health than average, and hence better generally than non-religious and non-spiritual people.

    3. Therefore non-religious and non-spritual people cannot be participating in these practices as much as religious/spiritual people, or they would have the same positive health outcomes. (The only way this couldn’t be a true inference from #1 and #2 is if there were some other practices which made non-believers less healthy.)

    So the statement follows by logic from the evidence, and I was simply observing that the conclusion accords with common sense. As ‘Far King’ said: “Smile, well obviously as a non-believer is not going to be involved with anything to do with a god. …. non-believers (can) still practice all the things you have listed except prayer, religious ritual and contemplating God.”

    If on the other hand you are saying that everyone who is not a christian would be classified as a non-believer

    I have said several times that the research refers to people who believe in God or undertake certain religious/spiritual practices, and includes people from several different religions (at least christianity, Judaism and Islam, plus those of a more general spiritual or religious belief, such as you).

  20. unkleE, you are missing my question. The quote I used of yours referred to Christians specifically not “religious” people in general. Here is your quote again.

    “I think it is clear that christians generally spend more time in the sum total of beneficial practices ”

    I was questioning your statement that “Christians” generally spend more time at these things than “Other” religions. I was asking for your evidence of this. You singled out christians in your statement. You didn’t include other religions.

    Do you now understand my question ?

  21. unkleE, you are missing my question. The quote I used of yours referred to Christians specifically not “religious” people in general. Here is your quote again.

    “I think it is clear that christians generally spend more time in the sum total of beneficial practices ”

    I was questioning your statement that “Christians” generally spend more time at these things than “Other” religions. I was asking for your evidence of this. You singled out christians in your statement. You didn’t include other religions.
    I already acknowledged that if you were comparing christians to non-believers I would agree with your statement.

    Do you now understand my question ?

  22. Let me rephrase the question. I already agreed that christians would spend more time in prayer and religious ritual than a non-believer of any religion. Yes this would be a forgone conclusion.

    Since you were “religion specific” in your statement (christian) , I was asking if you were lumping in all other religions as “non-believers” because in this case, I don’t know that your statement would be correct.

  23. I have referenced many studies. Most were done in the US, some in UK, a few elsewhere. Most religious people in those countries would be christians, but many studies included Muslims, Jews, etc, and one even studied Buddhist monks. Of course they also included atheists, agnostics, etc. The conclusions were therefore generally about God-belief and spiritual practices, not specific religions. So that is the conclusion I have summarised.

    But when I gave my own observation, it was based on my own experience. I don’t know any practicing Muslims or Jews, though I have met one or two, and I only know two practicing Buddhists. But I know hundreds of christians and hundreds of atheists/agnostics. So my comment referred to the religious people I know and can report on – christians. I didn’t say anything about other faiths because I don’t really know.

    Again you have misinterpreted me when you said: “I was questioning your statement that “Christians” generally spend more time at these things than “Other” religions.”

    I did not say that.

    You have inferred it, and only by ignoring what I wrote and quoting me incompletely. The full quote makes this quite clear (emphasis added):

    “I think it is clear that christians generally spend more time in the sum total of beneficial practices (prayer, meditation, religious ritual, mutual support, forgiveness, belief, contemplating God, etc) than do non-believers.”

    Ken, you seem to be a decent and friendly guy, and I really want to be friends and have courteous discourse. But have you jumped to false conclusions about Newberg & Waldman’s religious beliefs, missed or misquoted what I actually said, been reluctant to accept well documented evidence, and appear to be focusing on finding some loophole or error in what I write? This doesn’t seem to me to be the actions of an open-minded person confident in their belief. Why can’t we just accept the evidence and discuss its implications without all that?

  24. Certain religious and spiritual beliefs and practices (prayer, meditation, attendance at rituals, forgiveness, belief, contemplation of God, etc) generally have beneficial mental and physical health outcomes.

    You keep saying this and I have agreed with you on this point every step of the way. I fail to understand why you feel the need to continue to bring it up?
    You seem to want to frame your replies to distil a negative view of non-believers while glossing over the negative and harmful aspects of certain religious practices.
    You have included spiritual with religious practices which are not necessarily the same thing.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spirituality.

    2. Religious and spiritual people generally have better mental and spiritual health than average, and hence better generally than non-religious and non-spiritual people.

    Again you have lumped spirituality in with religious people. This is misleading as it does not tell the reader what percentage of religious people as opposed to spiritual.

    3. These outcomes are true in the majority of cases, but there are a minority of cases when they are not true. The one minority I can recall being mentioned was belief in an authoritarian God which makes people angry and fearful.

    The majority of cases? How many subjects were tested? 100, 1000, 100,000 1000,000?
    3 out of 5 is a majority and if one is prepared to extrapolate then this would arrive at the term majority
    You have not addressed any of the negative points I have raised re: ACE and Creationism and seem to have purposely avoided tackling such issues. Why is this? There must be hundreds of thousands of people, if not more, who believe in this absolute nonsense and I stand by what I say that these are harmful and detrimental to mental wellbeing.

    I therefore draw the conclusion that:
    4. The examples you quote are a minority of cases.

    Even if the cases I cite are a minority it is blatantly obvious that the dangers of believing/praying in the supernatural do have many tragic results.
    That you so blithely gloss over these facts suggests you are either insensitive to the abuses of religion, especially toward children, or you are ignoring the factual evidence so as not to cast aspersions on your case. While not dishonest it isn’t very honourable.

    Which of those 4 statements do you disagree with (if any), and what evidence would you point to in support of your disagreement?

    I have already outlined the examples that support my disagreement. Every single Creationist, every single child subject to ACE education and its affiliates or any other abuses foisted upon children in the name of god belief and every single deconvertee are just a few examples. And if we also included the fact that people are moving away from religion all the time it is clear that whatever benefits may have been gleaned from god belief are obviously not sufficient to keep people tied to their respective religions.
    This topic is becoming circular so I think we best agree to disagree and let the evidence of the broader picture speak for itself, don’t you?
    In conclusion, it is not the study I object to as much as your interpretation, which chooses to ignore counter evidence and regard it as inconsequential and at the same time show non-believers in a slightly poorer light. In fact, even mentioning non-believers is totally unnecessary to establishing any point you are trying to make regarding prayer and god belief.
    That so many children suffer because of religious indoctrination and that you choose to ignore it or gloss over it is unfortunate to say the least but is a hallmark of disingenuous apologetic religious practice.
    Sadly, because of the underlying feel of this post, unintentional though it may be, what you have managed to do with is diminish any worth of the survey and reduce your own argument as a result.

  25. unkleE, you are the one getting defensive because you are still not understanding my questioning.

    Let’s drop it because apparently my language skills are not good enough to pose my question.

    I would like to drop this for another reason as you continue to point out my flaw in jumping to a false conclusion about your authors.

    I owned up to it before you pointed it out the first time but you must get some sort of satisfaction by continuing to point it out. I thought you said christians are more apt to forgive than non-believers ? Is there a lesson to be learned here ???

  26. Far King,

    Let me first clarify a few matters you question ….

    1. I keep “bringing it up” because (1) it is the topic I wrote about, (2) it is the majority response, and (3) you seemed (to me at least) to be wanting to avoid the positive implications of religious beliefs and practices and focus on minority ones – and I wanted to keep those comments in context.

    2. I am not “glossing over” negative effects, I am reporting what the studies say. And the main (only?) negative effect they report (that I can recall) is the one I have mentioned – belief in a punitive God.

    3. I included spiritual with religious because that is what many of the studies do, including Newberg’s work which I was mainly referencing. Religious refers to attending church or other organised rituals and the defined beliefs that generally go with that, whereas spiritual refers to less defined beliefs generally practiced privately, but many of the practices are the same.

    4. I don’t know what percentage “majority” is, because I don’t recall reading that. But Newberg’s statements are quite strong, so I think the correlation between beliefs and practices vs wellbeing is quite strong.

    5. You have raised ACE and creationism, but I haven’t responded because that would expand the discussion and I think they are not relevant to this discussion.

    Yes, some people report negative consequences because of ACE, but I would guess (based on actual knowledge of a few people who were educated that way) that would be a small percentage of the very small percentage of people brought up with ACE.

    The case of creationism is even less relevant. This post is about measured brain states and measured wellbeing, whereas you are talking about whether an idea is true. We agree on the truth matter, and I have blogged about it. But I see no evidence for the charge that creationism reduces wellbeing, and I have known literally hundreds of people brought up with creationism, and many of them still believe it.

    So …. the first purpose (for me) in these discussions is to try to establish where we agree and disagree, and I believe we have done that. It appears we both accept the evidence that religious/spiritual belief and practices improve wellbeing in the majority of cases, though we don’t know the percentages. It appears we both agree that in a minority of cases religious belief and practices can harm wellbeing, though the only case we have clearly identified is belief in a punitive God.

    I am happy with that. Thank you.

  27. Let’s drop it because apparently my language skills are not good enough to pose my question.

    Ken, I am happy to drop it – that would be my preference – but I think we need to resolve something. We have been here several times before. The pattern is much the same.

    I write something you comment, I respond, no problems, all is courteous. But if we continue to make comments, eventually we reach a point of disagreement, and this is where it always goes pear-shaped. I try to provide the facts from the experts, but you reach a point where you are unhappy with those facts. Your response has several times been to accuse me of misrepresenting those experts, effectively of being dishonest. On this occasion you also misquoted me.

    Every time we reach this point, I try to affirm you and apologise for the hurt you have expressed, even though I cannot see I did anything wrong, simply keep pointing to the facts. On several occasions (as here) you have been found to have accused inaccurately and unfairly, you withdraw or revise the comment, but I cannot recall you ever apologising. I don’t mind that (the internet helps me have a thick skin) but I don’t think it is a good way for our conversation to end.

    On other occasions, as again this time, you say you lack learning and can’t compete with my reading. You have several times said you didn’t want to discuss with someone like me because of that. I think you sell yourself short here – anyone who has read nine volumes of the early church fathers is a reasonable scholar. But I also think it is a very unfair thing to say – if I present evidence which you can’t refute, then the honest thing is to say (at the very least) “I can see I’m going to have to do some more research”.

    But faced with this, what should I do? On Nate’s blog, I haven’t replied recently to several comments you have made about what I wrote, to avoid getting into this pattern, But on my own blog, I thought I would try to treat you with dignity and lay out the situation as I see it. I invite you to express how you see it.

    I also want to ask you to tell me how you want me to respond. I have no wish to upset you – I’d rather win a friend than an argument – and am quite willing to follow any reasonable “rules” you suggest. You are very welcome to continue to comment on this blog, but if you prefer I don’t comment back, I will do that. It really is up to you.

    Best wishes.

  28. 1. I keep “bringing it up” because (1) it is the topic I wrote about, (2) it is the majority response, and (3) you seemed (to me at least) to be wanting to avoid the positive implications of religious beliefs and practices and focus on minority ones – and I wanted to keep those comments in context.
    2. I am not “glossing over” negative effects, I am reporting what the studies say. And the main (only?) negative effect they report (that I can recall) is the one I have mentioned – belief in a
    punitive God.
    But I see no evidence for the charge that creationism reduces wellbeing, and I have known literally hundreds of people brought up with creationism, and many of them still believe it.

    Irrespective of what conclusion you interpret from such studies you appear to be tacitly sanctioning Creationism and ACE schooling, which, quite frankly is ludicrous.
    How is it possible for you to ignore or poo-poo the implications of a Christian-based education that claims dinosaurs roamed the earth with human beings and has illustrated text books that claim to prove its case? Or that the children are actively discouraged from believing in evolution. How can this possibly have anything but negative effects?
    This is gross irresponsibility on the part of any individual who has any interest in the wellbeing of children. I am very surprised and saddened that you do not roundly condemn this branch of Christianity.

    3. I included spiritual with religious because that is what many of the studies do, including Newberg’s work which I was mainly referencing. Religious refers to attending church or other organised rituals and the defined beliefs that generally go with that, whereas spiritual refers to less defined beliefs generally practiced privately, but many of the practices are the same.

    If the same/similar results can be obtained from spirituality as from religious belief then it is quite clear that one can derive all the mental wellbeing one might need without the need to believe in a supernatural deity. This is obvious. Yet your post seems to imply the two are necessarily linked, which they are most certainly not, and Newberg’s study clearly illustrates this. (The Brain scans on Tibetan Monks)

    <blockquote?4. I don't know what percentage “majority” is, because I don't recall reading that. But Newberg’s statements are quite strong, so I think the correlation between beliefs and practices vs wellbeing is quite strong.
    Then for the sake of greater accuracy and clarity maybe it might be wise to check on these particular stats?

    So …. the first purpose (for me) in these discussions is to try to establish where we agree and disagree, and I believe we have done that. It appears we both accept the evidence that religious/spiritual belief and practices improve wellbeing in the majority of cases, though we don’t know the percentages. It appears we both agree that in a minority of cases religious belief and practices can harm wellbeing, though the only case we have clearly identified is belief in a punitive God.

    I agree with this paragraph except the final part of the last sentence: “though the only case we have clearly identified is belief in a punitive God.”
    ‘’We’’ have not clearly identified at all. You have stated this is so. My response is clearly outlined above.

    Therefore:
    What Andy Newberg’s study actually demonstrates is: 1)Certain religious practices increase mental well being.
    This is not disputed.
    2)His study also shows that spirituality has the same/similar benefits and that the two are mutually exclusive

    What the study does not indicate is that god belief has greater benefits toward mental well than non belief if a non believer meditates or is spiritual as the brain scans of the monks in the study clearly illustrate.

    I hope I have clarified this for anyone who might be following the comments?

    And finally.

    May I ask if you would be happy if your children/grandchildren attended an ACE institution?

  29. Hi Far King, I appreciate your reply. A few comments:

    you appear to be tacitly sanctioning Creationism and ACE schooling

    If I appear that way to you, I am surprised. I specifically said that we both think the same about the truth of creationism, and I have blogged about it. I wasn’t so specific about ACE, but I never endorsed it, and I can specifically say, my wife is a teacher and she is critical of ACE and we wouldn’t use it to bring up our children. I don’t say more about it because I think it is a minor issue for most people, and I have too many more broadly important issues to write about.

    But I also say that I don’t believe either of those, generally, have the terrible effects you speak of. Clearly there are a few people affected by ACE, and I feel very sorry for those, but the number would be very few.

    one can derive all the mental wellbeing one might need without the need to believe in a supernatural deity. This is obvious. Yet your post seems to imply the two are necessarily linked

    Again, I can’t see how you get this from my blog or comments. I have always linked spirituality and religion, I have many times pointed out that unbelievers can do many of the same things, and therefore receive the benefits that accrue. But …

    1. they can’t do all the things, as you yourself have pointed out, and so they miss any benefits that come from the practices they can’t do – while Newberg has been my main reference on this, I have used others, and linked to where I have analysed these – Faith and wellbeing, and it shows that faith, contemplation of God, prayer, etc, have some advantages for wellbeing.

    2. Most unbelievers don’t pursue these practices (even many christians don’t pursue them much), so they miss the benefits.

    But I have always made it clear that unbelievers can do much.

    ‘’We’’ have not clearly identified at all. You have stated this is so.

    Yes but together we have not identified any. To do that, you need to offer proper scientific evidence.

    So I hope that clarifies.

  30. Okay, let’s try to ensure we are on the same page here and not talking at cross purposes…..
    Newberg is stating that certain religious practices encourage mental well being and his experiments apparently demonstrate this.
    I agree.
    He also states that meditation encourages mental well being.
    I agree.
    He also states that spirituality encourages mental well being.
    I agree.

    But what he is NOT saying is that all three are necessary.
    Neither is he saying that god-belief is a requirement.
    In fact, what is clearly illustrated from the non god-believing Tibetan Monk brain scans is the same if not greater positive benefits can be gained without any religious involvement at all

    Therefore, any non-believer can gain the sameif not greater levels of mental and physical well being ( because they are not exposed/subject to any of the negative religious attributes) simply by applying themselves to the spiritual/meditative process.

  31. I think you are doing your best to understate the whole range of conclusions. Most of what you say is, I believe, sort of true, but not fully.

    Newberg is stating that certain religious practices … meditation … spirituality encourages mental well being.

    True, but also (1) faith has benefits, (2) physical wellbeing benefits, and (3) not all the benefits are exactly the same.

    But what he is NOT saying is that all three are necessary. Neither is he saying that god-belief is a requirement.

    Necessary for what? This is again generally true, and I have constantly said so. But (a) different practices have different benefits (the benefits of meditation are not the only possible benefits) and (b) Newberg and other studies show some practices more likely to be part of a christian’s or other religious believer’s life (like prayer, faith and church attendance) are helpful. So non-believers can do most of these things and gain most of the benefits, but they are less likely to do so. Which is why the stats show religious people doing better on most of the wellbeing measures.

    In fact, what is clearly illustrated from the non god-believing Tibetan Monk brain scans is the same if not greater positive benefits can be gained without any religious involvement at all

    They can gain the same benefits as anyone else doing meditation, probably greater because they do it more. But meditation isn’t the only positive practice, and the wellbeing that results from meditation isn’t the only positive – e.g. I’m not sure if they get the benefits of faith or church attendance

    any non-believer can gain the same if not greater levels of mental and physical well being ( because they are not exposed/subject to any of the negative religious attributes) simply by applying themselves to the spiritual/meditative process

    This is your conclusion, not that of the studies. Any non-believers can get the benefits from meditation, but may find it harder, though still possible, to get the benefits of faith, etc. Those negative things you keep talking about are not reported in the studies, apart from the punitive God stuff. So nonbelievers, in actual measurable fact generally do worse on a range of measures.

    Let’s be clear again.

    1. I have never said this stuff proves God, in fact I have said that it doesn’t.
    2. I have never said unbelievers cannot gain benefits from all this, in fact I have said that they can.
    3. But there are some positive practices than unbelievers would find difficult to do, and the evidence suggests unbelievers do the positive things significantly less than believers.
    4. Therefore the measurable result is that believers do better than unbelievers on a range of wellbeing measures.
    5. Therefore religion is, in actual fact, helpful to people more than unhelpful (though it may be unhelpful to some), contrary to the oft-expressed opinions of some unbelievers.

    So there are take home messages for both of us:

    (i) We could both profitably take up some more of these practices.
    (ii) We could both in future make our comments about the effects of religion on people conform to these studies.

    Will you agree with those two?

  32. (i) We could both profitably take up some more of these practices.

    I have said, I already meditate and gain positive benefits for a whole range of things. Such benefits are aided by the release of certain chemicals, serotonin, dopamine for instance, that help forge pathways by linking synapsis. This is nothing new.
    Any form of god belief added to my current meditative regime would be anathema to me and thus decrease any sense of well being.
    Furthermore, through non-religious meditation practice (along with running and yoga)I gain all the benefits without any need to concern myself with the very real negative side effects of religious practice and belief in the supernatural.

    (ii) We could both in future make our comments about the effects of religion on people conform to these studies.

    I have never denied the studies, although Newberg has come under some criticism for the way he extrapolates his data.
    That there are currently more religious people than non-religious will naturally swing the data in favour of god belief for such a study.
    When god belief and religion become a thing of the past ( and global trends indicate this will eventually happen) then maybe general meditation will become part and parcel of daily life?

  33. unkleE, you are right to say there is a pattern here. What you fail to see or admit is the pattern includes your responses as well.

    I am passionate about life. Since leaving christianity , I have become even more passionate about life because this might be the only one I will ever experience.

    What saddens me about religion in general and institutionalized religion in particular are the restrictions placed on people on how to live their lives.

    When I see people like you who try to defend a certain religion which christianity happens to be the case here, I sometimes am guilty of over reacting to their / your blanket statements. I understand why my atheist friends get upset / concerned as well. I can no longer see a viable defense for religion. For all of the compelling evidence you claim to have supporting it, I can think of just as many cases where religion has harmed people.

    Newberg and Waldman said, ” “In fact, the brain doesn’t even try to create a fully detailed map of the external world. Instead, it selects a handful of cues, then fills in the rest with conjecture, fantasy, and be-lief.” This is why I sometimes get upset when you try to defend christianity.

    Though I’ve only been blogging for 6 months , I have observed something about comments you haven’t made on several sites. I am using my feeble memory to say this as I haven’t gone back and read every comment you made during those 6 months. Though you come quite prepared to defend the historicity of the christian Jesus and of his divinity, you have offered little personal evidence of why Jesus has made an impact on your life ? I’m curious why this is ?

    Are you blogging just because you like to debate or is there something more ? I blog because I like to hear what other people around the world are thinking . I also blog because I truly feel that christianity among other religions (because this is what I am most familiar with) suppresses people from getting more out of this life now.

    No doubt there are sayings attributed to Jesus that mankind could profit from. There are also sayings attributed to him which make me conclude he was not divine.
    1.)Cursing a fig tree for not producing fruit though it was out of season.
    2.)Telling the canaanite woman that he was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel and that it was not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.
    3.) Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans .
    I say all of this to give you some insight on why I am the way I am. I mean no personal harm to anyone. I want everyone to make the most out of this life , now. I don’t see how religion encourages this thinking.

  34. Hi Ken, Thanks for sharing more about your motivations.

    What you fail to see or admit is the pattern includes your responses as well.

    Well I am always willing to learn, and change if necessary. So I looked through your comment to see what you think is wrong with my responses. I concluded that you get upset at me because I defend christianity, which you believe is wrong and even harmful.

    So we disagree. You think I am mistaken and I think you are mistaken. That seems clear. But what I cannot understand is why you get upset at that, why you accuse me of misrepresenting people, why you are upset at me, why you refuse to accept evidence that goes against your view. The world and the blogosphere are full of disagreement.

    So I still don’t know what you think I should be doing differently, granted that I truly believe christianity is true. Have you got any more to say on that? If you don’t let me know, I will presumably keep on offending you without knowing why.

    To answer your questions. I hate argument, I try to avoid it when I can, by trying to avoid saying anything that is personally offensive. I blog because I want to share ideas and challenge people to think about them. I have written about how Jesus has made a personal impact on me, in fact most things I write are about that, but my main focus is ideas.

    I too want people to “make the most out of this life”, it’s just that we disagree about how to do that.

  35. I thought I would come back once more and reread this post as something was nagging at me and I wanted to be sure I had fully understood all points.
    This struck me as odd, or oddly phrased.

    4. Therefore the measurable result is that believers do better than unbelievers on a range of wellbeing measures.

    Substitute believer and nonbeliever with meat-eater and non meat- eater and this is what you get:
    “Therefore the measurable result is that meat-eaters do better than non meat-eaters on a range of wellbeing measures.”
    Now this is obvious, but fails to take into account that an equal level of wellbeing can be achieved eating other foods with no detrimental side effects whatsoever. In fact, considering what we know about the potential dangers of red meat being a non meat-eater can have many positive benefits unavailable to a meat-eater.
    So you see, unkleE how such a survey can easily be loaded in favour of whichever outcome one is looking for and in this case will >em>naturally appeal to a Christian(meat-eater) like yourself.

    5. Therefore religion is, in actual fact, helpful to people more than unhelpful (though it may be unhelpful to some), contrary to the oft-expressed opinions of some unbelievers.

    Again, this is a very oddly worded phrase that tends toward bias and, let’s be honest, there was no real need for the part of the sentence that read: “…contrary to the oft-expressed opinions of some unbelievers”, now was there?

    Furthermore, the demographics of the survey do not take into account the very real negative effects of religion,(or at least plays them down) and, once again, you are at pains to gloss over and hammer the more helpful rather than the unhelpful angle.

    The global polarisation caused by religion clearly overshadows any benefits of well being that could quite easily be found in many non prescriptive practices.
    Such negative aspects of religion will always be present and their detrimental effects reverberate throughout society and will continue to do so until such time as there is a single, nonviolent religion with a doctrine that every human agrees with.
    Realistically this not likely to happen and therefore it makes a lot more sense to search for alternate lifestyle forms that will increase humanity’s sense of well being and reduce as much enmity as possible. A non-religious world is a far better alternative.

    Some religious people obviously feel better because of their religion and its practices but when one considers the number of polarized religious beliefs and the global aims of religions such as Christianity and Islam, can we, in all honesty, say that these practices are better for humanity in the long run?
    Clearly they are not.

    You have mentioned on several posts the need to keep an open mind.
    Maybe this is one aspect that needs to be looked at more closely and perhaps it would be more honest to recognise that there are greater levels of intransigence among devoutly religious people than among those who are not religious.
    What do you think?

  36. When god belief and religion become a thing of the past ( and global trends indicate this will eventually happen) then maybe general meditation will become part and parcel of daily life?

    Maybe it will happen, but maybe it won’t. If there is no God as you say, then religion, like everything else in the biological world, is a result of evolution and natural selection. So religion has arisen in human societies right around the world because it confers an evolutionary advantage.

    Many evolutionary scientists say it is still conferring that advantage, hence the greater health and wellbeing and reproductive advantage of religious people. As Newberg himself says:

    “Our brains are set up in such a way that God and religion become among the most powerful tools for helping the brain do its thing – self-maintenance and self-transcendence. Unless there is a fundamental change in how our brain works, God will be around for a very long time.”

    And of course if you are mistaken and there is a God, religion is even more likely to remain.

    It has been an interesting discussion, and I thank you for it. I think it demonstrates that you sometimes prefer hope over evidence. No doubt you think something similar about me. Best wishes.

  37. there was no real need for the part of the sentence that read: “…contrary to the oft-expressed opinions of some unbelievers”, now was there?

    There was a very great need. The Newberg and other studies give very clear results, and they (and many other researchers I could quote) are not believers. But you don’t like the results so you try to downplay them, deny them, explain them away. So I keep reinforcing the results. When/if you stop avoiding the clear results, I will not need to keep reinforcing them.

    I think there is little more I need to say in response to your latest comment. You said in response to another post: “Listen and let the evidence lead to the truth.”

    I think you should accept your own advice on this matter. Best wishes.

    PS I fixed the unclosed tag – makes it easier to read.

  38. I have never once throughout this entire discussion denied the results.
    I have challenged their bias, which I still do, and I too could probably quote a great many researchers and the findings which would affirm what you are saying.
    But there aspects that are not covered. Even in your post which, whether you are prepared to admit or not, omits many reasons for these findings.
    The survey does not take into account a country such as Saudi Arabia where apostasy is punishable by death for instance, and
    even you cannot countenance this.
    Such factors, were they taken into account, would not only influence the ‘average’ test results but might well show a general negative outcome.
    It is not that I am avoiding the ‘clear results’ at all. I am questioning their bias, and every survey I have read on the internet since this discussion began has always made it clear that there are factors that were not taken into account or could not be accounted for and has acknowledged such limitations. Even Newberg was open enough to admit the shortcomings of his own findings.
    To quote myself…
    “Listen and let the evidence lead to the truth.”

    Yes….and the evidence is not revealing the whole truth, so I will
    wait until it does.

  39. Hi, I wasn’t going to continue this discussion any further because I thought it had reached a terminus, but I should respond to your last two links.

    1. I think I understood (more or less) what you were saying about meditation, and I think I more or less agreed with you. Meditation achieves some measurable changes to our brains and our thinking and our wellbeing, at least if we do it enough. My only other comment on it was that to achieve the really helpful results in a modern rush-rush-rush society requires discipline and time that few people can find, or at least do find. Hence the reason why most people don’t get the benefits, and why non-believers generally have lower wellbeing than believers. As a believer, I can pray and have faith much more in ordinary life than I can meditate, and so there are more ways I can get the benefit. But I agree, and have always said, that those with the discipline can get the benefits regardless of what they believe.

    2. Thanks for that reference to a new study whose results have just come out and I hadn’t seen before. It led me into a whole group of studies I had not found before. The article you referenced doesn’t describe the results of the study very accurately, but the authors certainly claim that their study findings are very different to most of the studies that have gone before. Some of the studies I got onto from there are different again.

    I think the reality is that each study has slightly different details, and we have to find the truth by discerning how and why they are different. This has opened up quite a bit that is new to me that I will now do another post after I have researched it a little more. Thanks.

  40. I think the reality is that each study has slightly different details, and we have to find the truth by discerning how and why they are different

    Which is pretty much the point I have trying to make all along.

    Every such survey is going to be limited to the number of people involved, and the demographics. Extrapolation can only take you so far.
    The unique benefits of a religious/faith based system are not difficult to see, community, common purpose, and of course a belief in a divine entity, none of which the average athiest, non-believer avails himself/herself to. And many people thrive in this environment.
    The isolation and vilification of atheists/atheism by many mainstream religious organisations ( Remember Bush saying atheists were unpatriotic? What a bloody fool that man is) could be why I have read that some people become insulated, and why there are moves to try an establish atheist communities/ meetings
    Count me out, thank you. 🙂

    But it is the global trends that are what makes the difference in the long run.
    Denmark may have a high percentage of its population that claim they belong to the state religion but figures show that only a small portion of that attends regular service or believes religion plays any significant role in their day to day lives. And this is a general worldwide trend.

    The diminishing numbers may be hardly measurable at the moment, but surveys conducted among the next generation will likely show quite a dramatic move away from god belief and especially religion. Already it is estimated that around 30% of North Americans consider themselves “None” regarding god belief and religious affiliation.
    Once again, how accurate these figures are is debatable but it is glaringly obvious that even if it takes four or five generations, religion and god belief, especially among westernised nations,is waning. The churches are not gaining new members to fill the ever emptying pews.

    I don’t feel this is any way a reflection on any form of moral degradation of societal values but rather a shrinking of the global village and , one hopes, more empathic relationships across all cultures without the need for supernatural subservience to recognise our humanity.

  41. Hi, I don’t think I have any more to say here. I don’t think either of us have any way to predict the future of the church, and your confident statements are as meaningless as mine would be. The experts tend to disagree with you, but then they don’t really know either. The future will demonstrate who is right, and I am happy to leave it at that. Best wishes.

  42. The experts tend to disagree with you,

    You must be reading different experts I’m afraid as global trends based on percentages definitely do not disagree with me and indicate a shift away from church, religion and god belief.
    This is not about ‘point scoring, unkleE, but simple reality.
    http://www.pewforum.org/2012/10/09/nones-on-the-rise/
    http://www.norc.org/PDFs/Beliefs_about_God_Report.pdf
    As I have stated before, it is’t a major paradigm shift- not yet -but it is a shift, slow yet inexorable.

    Archaeological evidence is another avenue that is slowly but surely chipping away at die hard religious belief. Such evidence is even more telling and cannot be so easily dismissed.
    One cannot run away from the truth, the only question is what one will will do when it catches up?

  43. You must be reading different experts I’m afraid as global trends based on percentages definitely do not disagree with me and indicate a shift away from church, religion and god belief.

    Yes, I must be. Trends prove little unless they continue the same, and your confident statements prove even less. But I won’t say more here as I will be posting on this also soon. Be ready for some unpleasant (for you) surprises!

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