Dispatches from the Creation Wars

God and Psychology

Over at Uncommon Descent they seem quite excited by a new study on the psychological effects of religious belief.

In a finding that wouldn’t surprise many,

Researchers at Harvard-affiliated McLean Hospital have found that those who believe in a benevolent God tend to worry less and be more tolerant of life’s uncertainties than those who believe in an indifferent or punishing God.

– “Religious Beliefs Impact Levels of Worry” (ScienceDaily Aug. 5, 2011)


This certainly doesn’t surprise me at all, even as a heathen. I’ve long said about my born again Christian stepmother that there’s almost a sense in which I envy her because she doesn’t worry about anything. She is absolutely convinced that God is in charge of everything that happens and that everything will work out for her because of her faith. It gives her an extraordinary sense of calmness and peace of mind no matter what is going on.

But this conclusion simply does not follow from that fact:

Here’s a welcome point:

“The implications of this paper for the field of psychiatry are that we have to take patients’ spirituality more seriously than we do,” Rosmarin said.

I don’t see why. The fact that belief in a benevolent God gives one confidence that things will work out has nothing whatsoever to do with the question of whether that God actually exists. Lots of false beliefs, even delusions, can be very comforting — and reality, of course, can be quite unsettling and disturbing. But the psychological effect of a belief is entirely distinct from the truth or falsity of that belief.

We should always prefer reality to fantasy, no matter how unsettling that truth might be and no matter how comforting our delusions.