Liberal Arts Blog — Are God and Religion Good Bets? Some Random Notes

Liberal Arts Blog — Monday is the Joy of Math, Statistics, Shapes, and Numbers Day

Today’s topic — Are God and Religion Good Bets? Some Random Notes.

If God exists, the reward of belief could be infinite, while the punishment for non-belief might also be infinite. If God does not exist, well it really doesn’t matter, whether you believe or not. Does this logic (often traced to Pascal) make belief the rational choice? Statistics on longevity and happiness in the US seem to make the same point. The religious tend to live longer and be happier. Globally, however, the rule falls apart as some of the happiest countries in the world (Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark) are ones where religious faith is relatively low. In fact, globally, the US is the anomaly. The more developed a country, the less religious the population. Experts — please chime in. Correct, elaborate, elucidate.


1.) “For the study, the researchers analyzed about 1,100 obituaries from 42 major U.S. cities published online between 2010 and 2011. A person was determined to have a religious affiliation if the obituary mentioned religious activities. The researchers also noted the person’s age, sex and marital status, as well as the number of social and volunteer activities listed.” (see first link)

2.) “The researchers found that, after taking into account sex and marital status, people with a religious affiliation lived 3.8 years longer, on average, than those without a religious affiliation.”

3.) “Further analysis revealed that volunteering and involvement with social organizations explained part but not all of the link between religion and longevity.”

NB: “Lifestyle factors could also help explain the link. Many religions have rules that restrict unhealthy practices, such as alcohol and drug use, which may play a role in longevity, the researchers said. In addition, “many religions promote stress-reducing practices that may improve health, such as gratitude, prayer or meditation.”

MORMONS, SEVENTH DAY ADVENTISTS — tight communities and the “paradox of choice”

1. “Mormons — who aren’t allowed to smoke or to drink alcohol or caffeine — tend to have much lower mortality rates than non-observers, and much the same is true for abstaining Seventh-day Adventists, who follow vegetarian diets and don’t drink.” (see second link)

2. “Thou shalt not” may seem like a bummer, but scientists have come to understand that t he abundance of possible decisions in a free, consumer-driven society can actually weigh us down.”

3. “It even has a term, popularized by Swarthmore College psychology professor Barry Schwartz: “the paradox of choice.”) It’s possible that the strictures of religion can help relieve that burden — especially if those strictures, and the religious community that enforces them, discourage unhealthy behaviors.”

NB: “Mormons tend to live longer, with a life expectancy of more than 86 years for women and 84 years for men in one long-term study compared to life expectancies in the early 80s for women and mid-70s for men.” (fourth link)


1. “In well-off but secular countries such as France and the Netherlands, both the religious and the nonreligious report about the same level of happiness and social support.”

2. “In fact, Gallup data shows that some of the happiest nations in the world — Nordic countries such as Denmark and Sweden, which perennially score high on well-being — are comparatively abundant in atheists”

3 “Being completely unreligious — and presumably not worrying much about any kind of afterlife — didn’t seem to stop them from enjoying this life.”


1. “Religion becomes less central as people’s lives become less vulnerable to the constant threat of death, disease and misfortune,” (last link)

2. “It’s no accident, say some sociologists, that some of the world’s least religious people live in nations like Denmark, Sweden, Germany, France and the Netherlands, all highly egalitarian societies with strong social safety nets.

3. “Not all countries conform neatly to the correlation between rising secularism and prosperity — Italy and Ireland, for example, are well-off First World countries where religiosity remains high, while China and Vietnam, whose regimes are officially atheist, are poor nations that are also among the most secular.”

NB: The US is something of an outlier in terms of having a high level of both prosperity and religiosity. Is this a function of the “livelier” and “open” market for religion here than in countries dominated by established churches (such as Scandinavia)? Or Is it more due to the fact of higher levels of economic inequality and the weaker social safety net?

Pascal’s wager

Could God Help You Live Longer?

You Asked: Do Religious People Live Longer?

Religious belief may extend life by 4 years

Why Do People of Faith Live Longer?

Does Spirituality Make You Happy?

List of countries by irreligion

Do countries lose religion as they gain wealth? | CBC News

Last three years of posts organized thematically:

PDF with headlines — Google Drive


Please share the coolest thing you learned this week related to math, statistics, or numbers in general. Or, even better, the coolest or most important thing you learned in your life related to math.

This is your chance to make someone else’s day. And to consolidate in your memory something you might otherwise forget. Or to think more deeply than otherwise about something dear to your heart. Continuity is key to depth of thought.



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