Why believe in divinity if you can’t prove it’s real?

I fully respect differences in belief (and non-belief) in something greater than the physical world. However, there are some atheists who are quite . . forceful with their opinions, even challenging theists to prove the existence of their god(s). The following is my answer to the question: why believe when you can’t prove it?

The following is an article pulled from WebMD:

Religious People Live Longer Than Nonbelievers

WebMD Health News Reviewed by Martin F. Downs

Aug. 9, 2000 — Religion appears to soothe the body as well as the soul, as people who are highly religious tend to live longer than others, a review of more than 40 scientific studies has found.

In fact, overall, the people who were most involved in their religions were 29% more likely to be alive when the various studies were completed than were their nonreligious counterparts.

Exactly how religious involvement boosts health is unclear, the researchers say. But given the findings, they write, future research should focus on the precise way that religion extends life. The report was published in the journal Health Psychology.

“Some people believe that religious involvement instills healthy beliefs and behaviors,” Michael E. McCullough, PhD, who did the research while at the National Institute for Healthcare Research in Rockville, Md., tells WebMD. For example, religious people tend to smoke and drink less, and may be slightly less obese than nonreligious people.

“They also receive a lot of positive social support that helps them to cope with stress,” says McCullough, who is now an associate professor of psychology at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

Finally, “religion helps people to develop a coherent set of beliefs about the world that help them to make sense of their stress and suffering,” he says. “All of these factors are probably at least partially responsible for the links between religious involvement and health.”

And that’s good news for the more than 90% of American adults who are affiliated with some type of formal religion, and the nearly 96% who believe in God or a universal spirit.

The review examined 42 studies of the link between religious involvement and mortality, involving a total of 126,000 people. Researchers collected information on how often participants attended church or temple, whether they were a member of a religious organization, and how much time they spent engaged in religious activities. They also assessed “private religious involvement,” which included how religious the participants said they were, the frequency with which they prayed in private, and their use of religion as a coping mechanism.

“There are a number of possible ways that religion can be self-enhancing,” says Redford Williams, MD, director of the behavioral medicine research center at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C., and author of the book Lifeskills.

“At least part of what is going on is social support,” he tells WebMD. “The health-enhancing effects of social support are well-documented and someone who is participating with others on an ongoing basis will gain that benefit,” he says, noting that people who regularly participate in religious activities often interact with others.

Another positive effect of religion on health may come from following the core teachings of major religions, including Judaism, Christianity, and some of the Eastern religious philosophies, he suggests.

For example, the teachings of many religions — such as treating others the way you would like to be treated, and loving your neighbor — make a person less likely to have stressful relations with others, Williams says.

Anthony Dekker, DO, associate director of the Phoenix Indian Medical Center, part of the Indian Health Service in Phoenix, Ariz., says he credits spirituality with helping people “live longer, live better, and die better.”

Dekker sees only Indian patients, and says as many as 90% of them are deeply spiritual.

“Spirituality is a critical aspect of quality of life and quality of dying,” he says.

Vital Information
* People who are involved with religion tend to live longer, overall, than their nonreligious counterparts.
* It’s unclear exactly why, but research suggests it may be partly a result of increased social support from other members of the religious organization.
* Another possible factor is that core beliefs of major religions tend to encourage healthy lifestyles and foster positive social interactions.

As for the percentage of people who believe in religion and survived longer than non-believers, it doesn’t have to have a high percentage to be clinically relevant. Take aspirin:

Regular low dose (75 mg) aspirin users had a 25% lower risk of death from cardiovascular disease and a 14% lower risk of death from any cause.

Click This: Aspirin

When aspirin was originally under research, the researchers halted the study because patients who were taking it were benefiting so much (see above quote) that they thought it unethical to withhold it from the comparison non-aspirin group.

There are many benefits to having faith. Whether there is something out there or not is irrelevant; what matters is what one does with that faith. Whether faith an excuse to take violent action, repress others’ opinions, or to use it as a way to build communities and cultivate social support, or used like a “placebo” to overcome illness and despair. That choice of what to do with it is what matters.

It’s similar in medicine – antipsychotics could be used for evil if misapplied, but they are used for good – to help people who have schizophrenia live better lives than they would live otherwise (and keep them alive for that matter). And get this – we don’t know how antipsychotics work, we just know that they do!

I’ve seen benefits in medicine both from religious faith and from placebos, as well as the comparison, and there is certainly something there. Here is an article based on several studies to chew on. The fact that faith can extend life is a reason to believe.

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3 comments on “Why believe in divinity if you can’t prove it’s real?

  1. Quintin says:

    One slight problem: if you know you’re just deluding yourself in order to live longer and healthier, how do you even believe? For those that aren’t, the fact that being religious is correlated to better health is of no significance.

  2. Fair enough. I’ll take that into consideration going forward. Thank you for reading and for your thoughtful feedback! 🙂

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