May 17, 2015 | David F. Coppedge

Theology Affects Society

One’s beliefs about God affect everything from criminal justice to personal hope.

Unsurprisingly, if you believe that evil is real you will be more likely to support harsh punishments for evildoers. This is a “finding” by psychologists from Kansas State University, according to Science Daily.

People who believe in pure evil are more likely support sentences such as life in prison without parole and the death penalty for criminals, a psychology study finds. The researchers added that it’s likely that life experience more than religion that [sic] influences a belief in pure evil. When investigating whether a religious upbringing was linked to a belief in pure evil, researchers found that people’s belief in pure evil didn’t necessitate a belief in pure good and vice versa.

“Religious upbringing” is a subjective factor, since “religion” is so broad, spanning everything from liberal to conservative, Jewish, Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, cults, and the church of Satan. Nevertheless, if everyone has a conscience with an innate knowledge of good and evil, it makes sense that a belief in “pure evil” reinforced by experience from news about mass murderers would be common among all people, regardless of religious upbringing.

In evolutionary terms, evil does not really exist. Society evolves with cooperators and cheaters, neither of which can be classed as morally good or bad (2/08/15), because if the cheaters grow to outnumber the cooperators, the roles reverse. Consequently, materialists and Darwinists have historically been prone to be lenient with criminals. John West documents this in his chapters on criminal justice in Darwin Day in America.  In chapter 3, he recounts the case in 1924 where Clarence Darrow defended Leopold and Loeb, two wanton murderers, on the grounds that natural selection made them the way they are. This is just an introduction to numerous other cases West documents that excused crime on Darwinian grounds.

The Spring of Hope

What gives a person steadfast hope when facing death? It’s not self-esteem, but rather belief in an afterlife, psychologists from the University of Kent found. Science Daily says that four studies reinforced the conclusion that belief in an afterlife is most likely to give a person hope when thinking about death.

The research was based on the premise that self-awareness among humans has been shown to create the potential for hope — or the general expectation and feeling that future desired outcomes will occur.

Paradoxically however, this self-awareness, which is thought to be unique to humans, also renders them conscious of their own mortality — known as mortality salience. The psychologists found that mortality salience affected feelings of hope among people with high and low self-esteem in different ways.

Researchers first established that mortality reduced personal hope for people low in self-esteem, but not for people high in self-esteem. However, afterlife beliefs helped to preserve hope, even among those with low esteem who experience hopelessness when faced with the prospect of their own mortality.

As with most psychology studies, the reliability of the findings is dubious. For one, it relies on self-reporting of individuals who are complex, dynamic, and untrustworthy; e.g., some might be tempted to report their feelings differently in clinical situations, or might feel differently depending on what they ate or how much sleep they got. For another, terms like “self-esteem” are subjective and poorly constrained. For another, the psychologists lied to some of the participants:

In two studies, the team tested to see if ‘immortality’ would help people with low self-esteem remain hopeful when thinking about death. In one, half the participants read a (bogus) statement indicating that scientists are convinced that there is life after death or a statement arguing that there is no life after death.

In the second, the researchers required that people read either a (bogus) statement that there was an identified gene that promises greatly elongated life, or a statement arguing that no such gene has been identified.

Both promises of immortality (life after death or elongated life on earth) preserved hope for people with low self-esteem when they had just thought about their own death.

If the participants discovered that the researchers lied to them, and thought lying was pure evil, would they have recommended harsh punishments for the psychologists? The most interesting statement in the article is that “self-awareness” is “thought to be unique to humans.” Where did that come from, if not from the image of God?

These kinds of studies are backwards. The participants should have been interviewing the psychologists and showing them up to be frauds. In the first study, a perceptive participant could have asked: “What do you mean by ‘religious upbringing’? Does that include growing up in the church of Satan or in a jihadi group? Do you yourself believe in pure evil? If not, why not? If you don’t believe in evil, do you believe in pure good? Do those things evolve, or are they real? If you deny the existence of absolute morality, why should I trust that you are trying to do any good right now in performing this interview? You need to get your heart right before trying to call this a scientific research project. Go read the Bible and learn something about morality before asking me anything about it.”

For the second study, the participant should have responded, “What do you mean by afterlife? Are you including suicide bombing to get 70 virgins in some kind of Muslim heaven? Are you including Nirvana, a senseless, impersonal nothingness? Are you talking about reincarnation? Do you, sir or madam, believe in an afterlife where you retain your identity, and where good and evil are rewarded and punished? If not, why are you trying to do a scientific experiment? If all your efforts end at death, what’s the point? Go read the Bible and learn something about immortality before trying to tell me whether it’s useful in providing hope.”

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