Thursday, January 13, 2011

God: The Evidence: A Retrospective and Refutation


This review will be a little bit different than the others I've written. God: The Evidence: A Reconciliation of Faith and Reason in a Postsecular World by Patrick Glynn was published by Prima Publishing in 1997. This book was the second book (the first was Lee Strobel's The Case For A Creator) I had bought while beginning my search in 2005-2006 to find out the truth about the age old god debate.

I remember being very confused by both Strobel's and Glynn's claims about being former atheists/agnostics. Of course, with my current knowledge, it seems that Strobel began to believe for emotional reasons, not intellectual ones [1] and I believe I've found evidence in Glynn's book to support this same conclusion. At the time, however, I was somewhat convinced by many of their claims and of their stories about how they came to believe, and that made me doubt my emerging disbelief. As I go through the review I will recall my thoughts and feelings as I first read the book all those years ago in addition to refuting each of his arguments.

Introduction: The Making and Unmaking of an Atheist

This is the author's introduction where he tells the reader about his path from agnostic/atheist to a believer. It's pretty standard. He explains how he had read Darwin at an early age and this greatly affected his beliefs. But then, he explains how science was beginning to shift; how science was beginning to point toward god, though I will leave his reasons for the specific chapters that lay ahead.

I find some of his statements to be peculiar. For example, he says on page five that “[t]he embrace of atheism did not bring joy. Somewhere, despite my 'agnosticism,' I had clung to the hope that I might be proven wrong. The day I grasped that the entire tradition of Western philosophy, from ancient to modern times, was essentially a refutation of the religious worldview – of the idea of God – was not a happy one.”

It seems obvious that Glynn wanted to believe so when he learned of these new arguments that he presents he embraced them wholeheartedly, and obviously didn't put much thought into them and whether or not they were valid. Assuming this testimony is true, it would seem to me that for whatever reason Glynn had some kind of emotional reason to believe so he found the “evidence” (no matter how flimsy) that convinced him.

On pages 12 to 15 Glynn discusses how his belief in “nihilism” fell apart when he began to realize that “[u]nder such conditions, one's intentions may be generally good. But if you come to imagine that there is no moral order to the universe, the incentives to good conduct, particularly in private life, are, unfortunately, much weakened. There is little to justify great self-sacrifice or deep personal commitment. Indeed, it is hard, as I later saw in retrospect, to feel or express love to the fullest extent. Even if one cares for others and thinks one cares greatly, one is inclined to be guided in the final analysis by one's selfish wishes. What is there in the nihilist's universe to call forth sacrifice?”

Clearly this isn't true and a moral life is perfectly compatible with atheism as many studies show. [2] This also seems to me to be another example of an emotional reason for his belief. Despite there being studies during this time in his life showing that non-believers can be just as moral, if not more so than believers, the author seems to have not bothered to look for such research.

Glynn also, in so many words, confirms my suspicions when he says on page 12,

“I am not claiming that anyone today can reason his or her way to faith in God. This was not even true in my case. For one thing, there was a stage in my life when I never would have bothered to pick up or read a book on near-death experiences, simply because such literature did not fit with my preconceptions of what was important or what was true.” (emphasis mine)

The previous comments make me wonder if Glynn's testimony is even true. This does not sound like the mindset of an atheist; he sounds almost like a believer trying to make up a story about what he thinks an atheist believes and his journey from such a supposed meaningless and immoral life to one of morality, purpose, and god. But, if the story is true, it may just be that his emotional reasons drove him to believe and kept him from investigating these matters in more depth. Then maybe he would have seen that even an atheist can lead a perfectly moral and purposeful life.

Glynn's testimony, while seemingly emotionally driven and illogical to me now, when I first read the book he seemed so sincere and, because I hadn't had that much experience with apologetics, I could not tell the difference between a person who truly looked at the evidence with an uncritical eye and an apologist who most likely honestly believes, but for whatever reason, is blind to the problems with his or her views. Glynn's sincerity pulled me in and made me wonder if I could be wrong since he went to a big university and seemed so convinced of god. He must be very intelligent, I thought, and he spoke with such passion. But, as I was to learn later, this means nothing in the way of evidence, and is a formal logical fallacy to boot (an appeal to authority) and I allowed Glynn's rhetoric to blind me to the poor evidence he presents later on.

Chapter One: A Not-So-Random Universe

In this chapter Glynn argues that science has discovered “constants” of the universe and these are evidence of fine-tuning, thus a creator. He argues,

In essence, the anthropic principle came down to the observation that all the myriad laws of physics were fine-tuned from the very beginning of the universe for the creation of man - that the universe he inhabit appeared to be expressly designed for the emergence of human beings. (23-23)

He also argues that the big bang proves there was a beginning to the universe (26) and that the theory of evolution is in trouble. (47) All these facts, he claims, are scientific evidences of a god.

When I first read this chapter I was very much perplexed about just how this fine-tuning came to be and wondered if perhaps a god could have been the cause. Over time I began to read about these subjects and found that there may not have been a beginning to the universe; that the big bang did not necessarily mean the universe itself had a beginning. The fine-tuning, however, was harder to account for and up until I read Victor J. Stenger's book God: The Failed Hypothesis (2007) I was unsure what to think about this “fine-tuning.” My creeping doubts about this claim solidified into skepticism, however, after reading a draft of Stenger's newest book, The Fallacy of Fine-Tuning: Why the Universe Is Not Designed for Us (forthcoming). [3]

However, unlike what Glynn tries to convince his readers of, the anthropic argument is not a strong argument for god. The reason is because, as Victor Stenger points out,

Many of the examples of fine-tuning found in theological literature suffer from simple misunderstandings of physics. For example, any references to the fine-tuning of constants like the speed of light,c, Planck's constant, h, or Newton's gravitational constant, G, are irrelevant since these are all arbitrary constants whose values simply define the system of units being used. Only 'dimensionless' numbers that do not depend on units, such as the ratio of the strengths of gravity and electromagnetism are meaningful.

Some of the “remarkable precision” of physical parameters that people talk about is highly misleading because it depends on the choice of units. For example, theologian John Jefferson Davis asserts, “If the mass of of neutrinos were 5 x 10 - 34 instead of 5 x 10- 35 kg [kilogram], because of their great abundance in the universe, the additional gravitational mass would result in a contracting rather than expanding universe.” This sounds like fine-tuning by one part in 10- 35. However, as philosopher Neil Manson points out, this is like saying that “if he had been one part in 10- 16 of a light year shorter (that is, one meter shorter), Michael Jordan would not have been the word's greatest basketball player.”


One of the many major flaws with most studies of the anthropic principle coincidences is that the investigators vary a single parameter while assuming all the others remain fixed. They further compound this mistake by proceeding to calculate meaningless probabilities based on the grossly erroneous assumptions that all the parameters are independent.


Physicist Anthony Aguire has independently examined the universes that result when six cosmological parameters are simultaneously varied by orders of magnitude, and found he could construct cosmologies in which “stars, planets, and intelligent life can plausibly arise.” Physicist Craig Hogan has done another independent analysis that leads to similar conclusions. And, theoretical physicists at Kyoto University in Japan have shown that heavy elements needed for life will be present in even the earliest stars independent of what the exact parameters for star formation may have been. [4]

Other scientists have come to similar conclusions:

According to Gordon L. Kane, and associates, "In string theories all of the parameters of the theory - in particular all quark and lepton masses, and all coupling strength - are calculable, so there are parameters left to allow anthropic arguments." [5]

Even Stephen Hawking's more recent studies seem to cast doubt upon the Anthropic Principle.

He proposed that our universe is much less “special” than the proponents of the Anthropic Principle claim it is. According to Hawking, there is a 98 percent chance that a universe of a type as our own will come from the Big Bang. Further, using the basic wave function of the universe as a basis, Hawking's equations indicate that such a universe can come into existence without relation to anything prior to it, meaning that it could come out of nothing. [emphasis in original] [6]

Glynn tries to discount several explanations by scientists who argue that the universe didn't have a beginning. He cites Stephen Hawking's book A Brief History of Time and dismisses Hawking's explanation when he says,

At this very conference [on “scientific cosmology” at the Vatican in 1981], Hawking introduced his famous “no-boundary” proposal, designed to eliminate the universe's beginning. Essentially, the Hawking proposal – later to be refined in collaboration with Jim Hartle – eliminated the temporal beginning point by placing the universe in a larger superspace comprising real plus (mathematically) “imaginary time.” In a sense, it was a way of “getting outside” the universe so that t=0, or the beginning was not a point on a linear time line but rather, by analogy, a point on a sphere, like the north pole on a globe. In this sense, there would be nothing “before” t=0 and, moreover, the point t=0 would be “nothing special.” Lest anyone doubt that Hawking's motivation may have had less to do with the demands of science than with the challenge of theology, Hawking himself has been clear on the point. “So long as the universe had a beginning,” he wrote in A Brief History of Time, “we could suppose it had a creator. But if the universe is really completely self-contained, having no boundary or edge, it would simply have neither beginning nor end: It would simply be. What place, then, for a creator?”

These physicists, one is forced to admit, are clever fellows, and there is no question but that Hawking's framework provided an ingenious answer to the simple argument raised by the pope. But Hawking's theory has remained controversial. And, more important, it did not solve the larger problem, which lay in the anthropic coincidences.” (emphasis mine) (41-42)

Hawking did not just make this up to 'get around' the problem of a beginning, as Glynn argues. Hawking's calculations came about because of quantum mechanics. As he explains in A Brief History of Time quantum theory was not taken into account with his initial calculations so his conclusion was ultimately wrong. This, he corrected in A Brief History of Time when he said in part, “[...] I am now trying to convince other physicists that there was in fact no singularity at the beginning of the universe – as we shall see later, it can disappear once quantum effects are taken into account.” [7]

Glynn also tries to cast doubt upon evolution by citing a dispute between Richard Dawkins and Stephen J. Gould about the validity of natural selection as a mechanism for evolution and Gould's theory of “punctuated equilibrium.” Glynn blows this scientific dispute out of proportion and strongly argues that evolution is “fraying at the seams” because “a consensus is growing that natural selection cannot by itself explain the order of the biological world.” (47-48)

Clearly Glynn didn't research this situation at all and appears to only have read creationist literature so he misunderstood this genuine debate as something damaging to evolution. However, if he would have read Gould's piece titled Evolution as Fact and Theory that was written in 1981, many years before Glynn's book, he could have seen that this dispute was no danger to the fact of evolution. There is no excuse for Glynn not to have read Gould 's fantastic article discussing these scientific controversies. In part Gould said,

Well, evolution is a theory. It is also a fact. And facts and theories are different things, not rungs in a hierarchy of increasing certainty. Facts are the world's data. Theories are structures of ideas that explain and interpret facts. Facts do not go away when scientists debate rival theories to explain them. Einstein's theory of gravitation replaced Newton's, but apples did not suspend themselves in mid-air, pending the outcome. And humans evolved from apelike ancestors whether they did so by Darwin's proposed mechanism or by some other, yet to be discovered.


Evolutionists have been clear about this distinction between fact and theory from the very beginning, if only because we have always acknowledged how far we are from completely understanding the mechanisms (theory) by which evolution (fact) occurred. Darwin continually emphasized the difference between his two great and separate accomplishments: establishing the fact of evolution, and proposing a theory—natural selection—to explain the mechanism of evolution. He wrote in The Descent of Man: "I had two distinct objects in view; firstly, to show that species had not been separately created, and secondly, that natural selection had been the chief agent of change. . . . Hence if I have erred in . . . having exaggerated its [natural selection's] power . . . I have at least, as I hope, done good service in aiding to overthrow the dogma of separate creations."

Thus Darwin acknowledged the provisional nature of natural selection while affirming the fact of evolution. The fruitful theoretical debate that Darwin initiated has never ceased. From the 1940s through the 1960s, Darwin's own theory of natural selection did achieve a temporary hegemony that it never enjoyed in his lifetime. But renewed debate characterizes our decade, and, while no biologist questions the importance of natural selection, many doubt its ubiquity. In particular, many evolutionists argue that substantial amounts of genetic change may not be subject to natural selection and may spread through the populations at random. Others are challenging Darwin's linking of natural selection with gradual, imperceptible change through all intermediary degrees; they are arguing that most evolutionary events may occur far more rapidly than Darwin envisioned.

Scientists regard debates on fundamental issues of theory as a sign of intellectual health and a source of excitement. Science is—and how else can I say it?—most fun when it plays with interesting ideas, examines their implications, and recognizes that old information might be explained in surprisingly new ways. Evolutionary theory is now enjoying this uncommon vigor. Yet amidst all this turmoil no biologist has been lead to doubt the fact that evolution occurred; we are debating how it happened. We are all trying to explain the same thing: the tree of evolutionary descent linking all organisms by ties of genealogy. Creationists pervert and caricature this debate by conveniently neglecting the common conviction that underlies it, and by falsely suggesting that evolutionists now doubt the very phenomenon we are struggling to understand. [emphasis mine in bold] [8]

Evolution is in no way being challenged as Gould so eloquently stated.

As I've shown, Glynn's arguments are based on faulty data and it appears he did not look into these subjects very thoroughly, further confirming my argument that most Christians begin to believe due to emotional reasons, and Glynn seems to be one more Christian I can add to the list of apologists' testimonies that seem to confirm this. [9]

At the time I had read this book my knowledge of science was limited to some basics about evolution and I was not familiar with the subjects Glynn discussed so it caused some confusion in me at the time. However, over time I read and learned more and found that Glynn's arguments did not stand on a solid foundation, and were often misunderstandings of the science under discussion, which is very common among Christian apologists.

At the end of the chapter Glynn writes,

“As recently as twenty-five years ago, a reasonable person weighing the purely scientific evidence on the issue would likely have come down on the side of skepticism. That is no longer the case. The burden of proof has shifted. The barrier that modern science appeared to erect has fallen.” (54-55)

As I've shown, this is not the case at all. Glynn only came to his conclusion because he didn't look deeply into the issues at hand and therefore gained a skewed perspective. But, I think that's ultimately what he wanted to believe in the first place, so he sought the “evidence” that would confirm his emotional need to believe.

Chapter Two: Psyche and Soul: Postsecularism in Psychology

In this chapter Glynn argues that, despite what Freud said, religion is a powerful force in peoples' well-being and cites several studies showing that the highly religious are often less depressed, have lower suicide rates, get divorced less often, and have lower rates of drug/alcohol abuse. He writes,

Numerous studies show that religious believers are far less likely than nonbelievers to commit suicide, abuse drugs or alcohol, experience debilitating stress, or get depressed or divorced. Moreover, people of committed religious faith consistently report much higher levels of personal happiness and psychological well-being than do their agnostic or atheistic counterparts. (61-62)

After looking into many of these studies and perusing the massive book Handbook of Religion and Health, by Harold George Koenig, Michael E. McCullough, and David B. Larson, this seems to be a common theme, though there are many studies that give the opposite conclusion, and it seems the conclusion is far from conclusive.

For example, regarding emotional well-being,

Ventis (1995), after surveying the literature, concludes that the non-religious are psychologically healthier than religious individuals and hypothesizes that this may be related to “a sense of personal competence and control, self-acceptance and self-actualization, and perhaps open-mindedness and flexibility.” […] Ross (1950) reported that individuals with no religious affiliation in the United States enjoyed low levels of psychological distress, just like highly religious individuals, despite their marginal status in society. Maslow (1970) reported that of the fifty-seven individuals he judged to be self-actualized, that is, having achieved the highest level of personality development, very few were religious. [10]

Regarding divorce rates there are some studies showing the opposite, such as by the Christian sociologist George Barna. There have also been some studies reported by the Associated Press.

Barna's 2001 study found that,

Born again Christians are just as likely to get divorced as are non-born again adults. Overall, 33% of all born again individuals who have been married have gone through a divorce, which is statistically identical to the 34% incidence among non-born again adults. […] Residents of the Northeast and West are commonly noted for their more liberal leanings in politics and lifestyle. However, the region of the nation in which divorce was least likely was the Northeast. In that area, 28% of adults who had been married had also been divorced, compared to 32% in the Midwest, 35% in the South, and 38% in the West. [11]

An Associated Press study, using data supplied by the US Census Bureau,

found that the highest divorce rates are to be found in the Bible Belt. The AP report stated that "the divorce rates in these conservative states are roughly 50 percent above the national average of 4.2 per thousand people." The 10 Southern states with some of the highest divorce rates were Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Texas. By comparison nine states in the Northeast were among those with the lowest divorce rates: Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Vermont. [12]

Sociologist Phil Zuckerman in his paper titled, Atheism, Secularity, and Well-Being: How the Findings of Social Science Counter Negative Stereotypes and Assumptions, says,

Some studies report that non-religious people have higher rates of divorce than religious people (Hood et al. 1996; Lehrer and Chiswick 1993; Heaton and Call 1997), but a 1999 Barna study (Barna Research Group Survey 1999, 2007) found that atheists and agnostics actually have lower divorce rates than religious Americans. And according to Kosmin (2008), divorce is a widespread phenomenon that affects the religious and secular in roughly equal measure. [13]

The studies regarding depression rates between religious and the non-religious is mixed, but is far from concluding what Glynn wants his readers to believe.

The relationship between religiosity ⁄ secularity and psychological well-being is a heavily-research [sic] matter (Sherkat and Ellison 1999), although one that is far from settled (Hwang 2008; Pasquale 2007a,b). Some studies suggest that religiosity is positively correlated with positive mental health outcomes (Levin and Taylor 1998; Levin and Chatters 1998) while others find no such correlation (Musick 2000; King and Schafer 1992; Gee and Veevers 1990; Brown and Gary 1987; Bergin 1983; Stones 1980; Campbell et al. 1976; Atchley 1997; Crawford et al. 1989).


Many studies report that religiosity is correlated with reduced levels of depression (Koenig 1995; Ellison 1994; Levin 1994), and yet others suggest that religiosity can have a negative or no influence on depression (Buggle et al. 2001; O’Connell and Skevington 2005; Sorenson et al. 1995; Francis et al. 1981; Wilson and Miller 1986). Mirola (1999) found that being religiously involved helps lower levels of depression among women, but not men. Some studies indicate that secular people are less happy than religious people (Altemeyer 2009; Reed 1991; Steinitz 1980), and yet international comparisons show that it is the most secular nations in the world that report the highest levels of happiness among their populations (Beit-Hallahmi 2009; Zuckerman 2008; De Place 2006). [14]

Regarding the levels of stress between the two groups Zuckerman writes,

Some studies indicate that secular people are less happy than religious people (Altemeyer 2009; Reed 1991; Steinitz 1980), and yet international comparisons show that it is the most secular nations in the world that report the highest levels of happiness among their populations (Beit-Hallahmi 2009; Zuckerman 2008; De Place 2006). According to Greeley and Hout (2006, 153), among Americans who describe themselves as ‘‘very happy,’’ secular people don’t fare as well as religious people, and yet, among people who describe themselves as ‘‘pretty happy,’’ nonreligious Americans actually fare the best.


Ross (1990, 239) found that people with stronger religious beliefs had significantly lower levels of psychological distress than those with weaker religious beliefs, but that ‘‘those with no religion had the lowest distress levels.’’ [15]

While many studies do seem to confirm that religion is beneficial, most of the categories Glynn discusses are far from clear-cut as to which group is better off, exceptions being the rates of suicide and drug and alcohol consumption. However, these studies certainly show that religion isn't a necessity for happiness and well-being and this fact undercuts Glynn's whole argument.

However, there is another dimension to Glynn's argument: one of morality. He argues that,

In short, the burden of both clinical experience and the research data suggests that among the most important determinants of human happiness and psychological well-being are our spiritual beliefs and moral choices. […] This is not to deny the importance of other factors in making for mental stability or to argue that psychotherapy cannot be of great use to individuals in healing the wounds of their past. But it does suggest the inutility of approaches to therapy that ignore the spiritual dimension of human existence or that have nothing to say about right or wrong.

It is precisely the inability to speak to the last issue that has helped spell catastrophic decline in the reputation of traditional psychoanalysis in recent years. (67-68)

He then cites the Woody Allen and Mia Farrow child custody case from the early 1990's and quotes the psychiatrist William Doherty's opinion of the therapists speaking on the witness stand during the trial about Allen's fitness as a parent, since he had a secret affair with Farrow's 19 year old daughter. Doherty said,

A prominent issue was Allen's fittness as parent, given his secret affair with Farrow's 19-year-old daughter. […] [The therapists who testified as expert witnesses, when questioned], about whether they thought it was wrong for Allen to have a secret affair with his lover's daughter, the therapists all demurred from making evaluative judgments. They used language reminiscent of the Watergate hearings: Mr. Allen “may have made an error in judgment,” “a mistake given the circumstances” […] Finally in a moment of exasperation after trying unsuccessfully to get any expert witness to break out of morally neutral therapeutic discourse, the judge angrily cut off one with these words: “I find it extraordinary the words that therapists use who come here, and they can say 'bad judgment' or 'lack of judgment.' But isn't there something stronger? [...]” (68)

Glynn adds his own opinion of the case,

The Allen case vividly illustrates the hazards of “value-free” living – and of a “substitute religion” [ala Freud, according to Glynn] that sanctions such a lifestyle. (69)

Of course, Glynn's ultimate point is this,

A purely secular view of human mental life has been shown to fail not just at the theoretical, but also at the practical, level. The last thing Freud would have predicted as the outcome of more than a half century's scientific psychological research and therapeutic experience was the rediscovery of the soul. (78)

Glynn's argument is all wrong. One can find books on psychotherapy that deal with the issue of morality in psychotherapy. One past and one current example are, Ethics and Values in Psychotherapy by Alan C. Tjeltveit, Routledge (1999) and The Modes and Morals of Psychotherapy, by Perry London, Taylor & Francis (1986). In Perry's book, for instance, he explicitly expresses the fact that therapists can be and often are a moral agent. He says,

Several forces compel the therapist to become a moral agent. For one thing, therapists influence the moral postures of patients because they always interpret therapist responses to their moral concerns. If therapists approve clients' behavior, they may reinforce it; if they disapprove, they may change it. If therapists seem neutral, clients may interpret this as either tacit approval or disapproval – and often, it will be one of them, complimented by the therapist's fears of upsetting the patient or reluctance to dictate rules of propriety. Merely permitting these things to be discussed legitimizes clients' efforts to interpret therapists' reaction to them.

Secondly, therapists too have value systems, morals of their own. It is hard to see how they could form relationships with clients in order even to understand them, never mind help them, without privately comparing their values. The ability to not respond to such comparisons, to suspend one's own beliefs enough to totally restrain the attitudes that flow from them, must be rare indeed. And carried to its own extreme, does it not remove the therapist from all caring, if not from all interaction? The few studies that have explored the question empirically have found therapists do communicate their values to patients, with or without intending to and even, perhaps, without consciously comparing their own (Murray, 1956; Parloff, Goldstein, & Iflund, 1960, Parloff, Iflund, & Goldstein, 1957; Truax, 1966; Wolfe, 1977). (10-11)

To argue that psychotherapy can't and doesn't supply morals is false and Glynn's use of one sided data is once again evidence that Glynn wanted to find evidence for a god and the supernatural and did not conduct a thorough search into the evidence. Whatever Freud's views on morality were, they do not affect the practice of psychotherapy today and the fact that morality is a part of the practice.

As far as psychotherapy supposedly finding evidence of a soul, that statement is backed with no solid evidence. The studies I cited previously show that religion has a mixed benefit. Even if religion was shown all across the board to be nothing but beneficial I am hard pressed to see how this somehow proves the existence of a supernatural entity such as the soul. That is the most curious of all of Glynn's arguments in this chapter.

When I read this chapter for the first time I wasn't sure what to make of it. I thought perhaps Glynn was trying to imply that if one believes in god, and he were real, he rewards that belief by helping you remain psychologically healthy. As before, here I relied too much on authority and did not fact check Glynn's claims. After doing so, I found they are downright false in most instances.

For more information about mental and physical well-being and religion see Well-Being, Atheism, and Religion.

Chapter Three: Faith and the Physicians

Continuing in the same vain as the last chapter, Glynn cites various studies that show religious believers are very physically healthy and claims that it is this fact that leads him to believe there is a god because, “[j]ust as the anthropic principle reveals a physical universe seemingly designed expressly for human life,” he argues that the “mind and body [are] designed for religious faith.” He also claims that this “religious drive or hunger appears to be so profound as to have major measurable physiological consequences.” (79-80)

There are numerous problems with this argument, one of which is the fact that even non-believers can be and often are just as healthy as believers. When I first read this book I was perplexed by this argument since I was an agnostic at the time and yet I almost never got sick.

When you look at the evidence at hand it is similar to the last set of data, where for some reason there does seem to be many studies that confirm that religious believers do often have good physical health. Of course, this crosses all religious lines and would hardly prove Christianity true since the same holds true for Buddhists for example. Even the Handbook of Religion and Health states that,

Just because a religious person has mental or physical illness does not necessarily mean that the person's religious faith caused the health problems. This applies equally well to the devoutly religious person who has excellent mental and physical health; that is, we cannot assume that religiousness is responsible for the excellent health. [16]

Furthermore, when you put these many studies aside and look at one of the most religious nations, the U.S., and several of the most secular and non-religious countries in the world, the non-religious countries' physical health of its citizens is much better.

According to Phil Zuckerman's book Society without God, when one looks at the Human Development Report published by the United Nations each year, one of the things it looks at is the degree of health and longevity of the people in each country.

As of 2006, Sweden ranked fifth in the world, Denmark ranked fifteenth, and several other relatively nonreligious nations – including Norway, Japan, the Netherlands, France, and Britain – were in the top 20. […] Sweden is tied with Canada and Cyprus for second place for the lowest rates of tuberculosis; and Denmark is tied for fourth place on this measure – along with Australia, Netherlands, Italy, and Malta. Denmark and Sweden also have among the lowest rates of HIV/AIDs infection in the world. [17]

According to the most recent 2010 Human Development Report the most healthy countries aren't the most religious, but are the most secular and contain the most non-believers. In the number one spot in terms of health Norway leads the pack, followed by Australia and then New Zealand. Of course, this year in the number four spot is the U.S., but these secular countries are ahead of one of the most religious countries in the world.

Glynn would like to argue that the body is somehow “fine-tuned” for religion but there are much more plausible naturalistic reasons why religion seems to help improve ones' health.

For the past decade, researchers have been seeking to identify characteristics, functions, expressions, or manifestations of practicing religion or being religious that exert health-related effects. Several researchers have proposed that particular types or modes of religious expression or identification may be associated with certain respective biobehavioral or psychosocial constructs that, independently of religion, are known or believed to be related to health. Building on these insights, we outline several possible explanatory mechanisms via which aspects of religious involvement may lead to positive health outcomes. These mechanisms involve a variety of behavioral and psychosocial constructs that are quite commonly encountered in health education, theory, and practice. They include (1) regulation of individual lifestyles and health behaviors, (2) provision of social resources (e.g., social ties, formal and informal support), (3) promotion of positive self-perceptions (e.g., self-esteem, feelings of personal mastery), (4) provision of specific coping resources (i.e., particular cognitive or behavioral responses to stress), (5) generation of other positive emotions (e.g., love, forgiveness), (6) promotion of healthy beliefs, and (7) additional hypothesized mechanisms, such as the existence of a healing bioenergy. [18]

This is interesting since religion isn't needed to accomplish most of these things, therefore it seems strange to me that many studies seem to show that religionists are supposedly healthier than non-believers. Of course, there is also data that contradicts this claim, such as the Human Development Report above. Other than these findings are the following:

An article by Richard P. Sloan, Ph.D. titled Field Analysis of the Literature on Religion, Spirituality, and Health explains how many of the studies have been flawed, including the book I cited earlier, the Handbook of Religion and Health, which is too one sided in presenting only the positive links to health and religion.

For example, Sloan writes,

In the Powell et al. review, 9 hypotheses about the connection between religion and health were evaluated. Powell et al. concluded that only in the case of studies of attendance at religious services and mortality was the evidence persuasive. In all other cases – that religion or spirituality protects against cardiovascular disease, against cancer mortality, that deeply religious people are protected against death, that religion or spirituality protects against disability. that religion or spirituality slows the progression of cancer, that people who use religion to cope with difficulties live longer, that religion or spirituality improves recovery from acute illness, and that being prayed for improves physical recovery from acute illness – the evidence was at best equivocal.

It is true that studies of religious attendance and mortality are the strongest of the lot but even so, there are significant problems with them. These problems include self-selection, residual confounding, measurement error in the self-report of attendance, and data dredging. Most of these problems characterize the field as a whole, too. [19]

Other studies seem to show the opposite. According to a four year study presented in 2010 the non-religious are just as healthy as the believers. The study reported,

“[T]the rate of heart disease events, nor the number of certain risk factors -- such as high cholesterol, diabetes, and high blood pressure -- differed among those who were more or less religious or spiritual. The only exceptions: Those who went to religious services, otherwise prayed or meditated, or were highly spiritual were more likely to be obese, and less likely to smoke.

Given that many religions discourage smoking tobacco, the smoking finding was not difficult to explain, Lloyd-Jones said, and is consistent with earlier studies.

The reasons for the obesity finding, which is similar to some previous studies but the opposite of others, are less clear. "We're not sure whether it is that religious people are more likely to gain weight through activities they pursue, or maybe heavier people seek out religion as a result of stigmatization," Lloyd-Jones said. [20]

Tom Rees, author of the blog Epiphenom explains the reason this study came to the opposite conclusion. He says,

You might have seen news reports about a recent study showing that religious people are no healthier than non-religious. The cynical among you might be wondering what on Earth's going on here, given that other studies have shown the opposite! A classic example of scientists proving whatever they want to, perhaps?

Well, no. There's a good reason that this study has found something different, and that's because it's not asking quite the same question.

You see, working out the relationship between religion and health is actually quite complicated. If you take the straightforward approach the answer is clear: religious people are unhealthier and die younger than the non-religious.

The reason for that is obvious. Religious people tend to be poorer and less well educated. As a result, most studies try to work out whether religious people are healthier after adjusting for these differences.

So the key question boils down to this: which differences should you adjust for? Your decision on this will affect the answer you get. [21]

The reasons religion likely helps are reasons that could also be provided by secular outlets and social functions, and according to some, the studies are flawed and there are often negative consequences linked to religious belief. [22]

Even if Sloan's and others' conclusions were flawed and all of these studies do prove something, how, as in the last chapter, does this help provide evidence for god? The premise and conclusion do not follow. Just because the religious may be healthier on average then the non-religious does nothing to provide evidence of a god and this book is supposed to be about the evidence for god.

Chapter Four: Intimations of Immortality

In this chapter Glynn argues that near death experiences (NDE's) and out of body experiences (OBE's) are proof of the afterlife.

He cites several stories by people who have had NDE's taken from authors Dr. Michael Sabom's and Raymond Moody's books, among a few others. He then cites arguments by the skeptics and attempts to debunk them, arguing that the naturalistic explanations cannot account for these experiences.

First of all, these experiences are still being investigated so I look at these claims essentially as “god of the gap” arguments: Because science can't currently explain every detail of these experiences they must be proof of the afterlife. That's highly flawed reasoning. Despite my being a skeptic now, when I first read the book I thought perhaps there was something to these experiences. Maybe there is an afterlife; these experiences seemed compelling to me. As with the other chapters, I had no knowledge about the brain at that time and no real knowledge about these experiences, and I took the authors' words at face value (Glynn and the authors he cites) and didn't question most of the claims like I should have, since many of the conclusions the people who believe in NDEs and OBEs often make are flawed, and don't necessarily follow from their evidence.

Second, these experiences depend upon there being some kind of soul, or immaterial entity that detaches from the body; some kind of mind and brain dualism, but modern physics has thus far ruled out this possibility. [23]

Glynn cites stories where patients who've had NDE's and OBE's have supposedly floated out of their bodies and looked down to watch a medical procedure being preformed on themselves, often giving details they wouldn't ordinarily know unless they actually saw the procedure. Glynn argues against Susan Blackmore's claim that sensory information can still be obtained by feeling what's happening to them when he references a patient who had heart surgery. He says,

An even tougher case is posed by the retired Air Force pilot who observed the defibrillator meter operate. He could not have “sensed” this through his body. (114)

Blackmore relates this story in her book Dying to Live and explains how Sabom had no way of knowing which device was used and how it moved since such information wouldn't be in the patient's medical records. All he had to go by is what the patient said, and Sabom “was convinced this was the truth” and trusted what the man was telling him was accurate. [24] Blackmore also noted that the patient was being interviewed five years later and could have been told of the procedure later on or mixed in with his memory some details he learned after the fact, and falsely believed that's what he actually saw. [25]

Glynn claims Blackmore was being deceptive by failing to share with her readers that Sabom questioned the patient about if he could have “gleaned the information from another source” but this is false. Blackmore plainly says, “The man denied having ever seen this CPR procedure being carried out and Sabom was convinced this was the truth” and explains how memories can often become confused and inaccurate (as I mentioned above). [26] [emphasis mine]

Glynn further argues that Blackmore's argument about bodily sensations being used as clues as to what happened to the patients is flawed. He says,

The idea that casual knowledge gleaned about the procedure from other sources does not seem plausible. Finally, what reason do we have for discounting the man's own account of how he gained access to this highly technical information? There was no motive for lying […] (116)

Glynn simply discards Blackmore's probable explanation and doesn't tell why or how such an explanation fails. It's well known that a person's memory is often faulty. False memories being supplemented by other memories or someone else's version of events can influence a person's memories. This is well known and has been studied in the scientific literature. [27]

Because of this, Blackmore's argument is definitely possible, and because of the lack of evidence for supernatural phenomenon, is much more plausible than Glynn's argument. It is because of this that Glynn's claim that Blackmore's rejection of such phenomenon is an “a priori conviction that something like this simply couldn't be true” (116) is doubly false. This is even more obvious when Blackmore outright states the opposite in Dying to Live:

Our current materialism and its rejection of the idea of a spirit or soul might be just another great falsity. So I cannot just accept it without question. Instead I want to compare the two kinds of theory. This way I can ask which one better accounts for the data. I can compare how well they explain the specific features of the NDE and how well they can predict future findings about NDEs. […] If the afterlife hypothesis can answer them best then I shall accept that and work with it as well as I can. If the dying brain hypothesis does better then I shall work with that. [28] (emphasis mine)

Glynn lists several naturalistic explanations for NDEs and attempts to refute them. First he lists cerebral anoxia, or oxygen deprivation to the brain.

Glynn claims that during anoxia people “suffer distorted mental processes – deep confusion followed by a rapid descent into unconsciousness.” (121) He also quotes neuropsychiatrist Peter Fenwick as arguing the following,

As the brain becomes anoxic it ceases to function. It becomes disrupted and disorganized, so that you become gradually confused, disorientated, your perception fragments and finally you become unconscious. You do not think clearly, you don't have insights, you don't have clear, coherent visions...[I]f anoxia is to be the major cause of NDEs we have to postulate a series of very unlikely events. The brain has to be able to synthesize a complex internal world and to be able to remember it, despite a lack of oxygen which is so profound that brain function is widely disrupted so that consciousness is lost. (121)

Glynn also claims that “there is no systematic evidence to show that near-death experiences occur during periods of anoxia. Sabom found one case of a patient whose blood gases were measured during an out-of-body experience: His oxygen level was above normal.” (121-222)

This seems inaccurate to me since pilots being put through the Centrifuge with very high G forces being exerted have had NDEs and OBEs after loss of consciousness as blood drained from their heads. Second, it's been shown that some children suffering from reflex anoxic seizures have reported having NDEs and those who are old enough to describe their visions can do so. [29] This evidence seems to refute Fenwick. Third, it seems the argument about blood gas levels is also not accurate for the following reason:

Gliksman and Kellehear point out that peripheral blood measures are not reliable indicators of cerebral blood gases and cite evidence from animal and human studies. In any case, this is obvious when you consider the cause of (near) death. If the heart stops pumping blood then blood in the arteries is not reaching the tissues or cells which will use it and therefore oxygen levels in those arteries will only fall very slowly. If extra oxygen is given as well, which is common during cardiac arrest [as with Sabom's patient], then the arterial levels may actually rise. By contrast, blood in the veins will not have much oxygen left because it is in contact with the tissues and therefore loses oxygen. Since the brain uses a lot of oxygen, levels in cerebral veins will fall fast and the brain quickly run [sic] out of the oxygen it needs. Sabom's patient had arterial blood tested and so we cannot conclude that he was not suffering from cerebral anoxia. [30]

I find it a bit surprising that even an early apologetic work such as this commits much the same errors as more modern apologists. Just as apologists often do today they often misconstrue their sources and Glynn often misrepresents the science and Blackmore's book. Just previously, he ignored her statements that contradicted his biased beliefs about her supposed assumptions and ignored her evidence against his claims about blood measures. This seems to further confirm my original suspicions about his emotional reasons for belief.

Next, Glynn dismisses the next materialistic explanation for NDEs: Hallucination. He argues the following,

One of the earliest hypotheses offered for the NDE was that it was a hallucination (possibly drug induced) or a dream. Not only do many people encounter NDEs with no drug involvement, but also, as a number of researchers have argued, the experience does not have the normal characteristics of a hallucination. First, the otherwise normal people who have near-death experiences do not interpret them as hallucinations, but as very “real” experiences - “as real as you and me sitting here talking” is a common characterization. […] Sabom had two patients who had each experienced drug-induced hallucinations and a near-death experience on separate occasions. Both perceived sharp distinctions between the hallucinatory state and the NDE. Second, hallucinations normally involve serious distortions of reality. But the NDE is normally ordered. While imagery may vary, the experience is remembered as highly coherent. Moreover, there are common patterns to the experience, across individuals and across cultures, whereas hallucinations tend to be more idiosyncratic. Third, hallucinations are characteristically accompanied by anxiety and disturbance; the vast majority of those who report having had NDEs describe a feeling of peace and calm once they have separated from their bodies. Fourth, a number of studies have shown that NDEs normally have a life-transforming effect of the beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors of those who experience them. […] Mere hallucinations do not normally have this kind of carryover into individuals' lives. (123-124)

I find several things wrong with Glynn's objection. First, someone's subjective experience of something being “real” is not evidence of it actually being as such. There have been experiments where volunteers have been given “various mixtures of oxygen and carbon dioxide. Some of these people saw bright lights, had out-of-body experiences and relived past memories. Some faced terror and some ecstasy, some cosmic understanding and universal love. One described everything as 'so real and simple' and another reported 'complete understanding and harmony with God.' One called it 'a wonderful feeling, as if I was out in space.'” [31]

Many of these people believed what they were experiencing was absolutely real, but they obviously knew it wasn't since they were aware of what had been done to them. Many of these experiences were also often very pleasant. Another point that needs to be made is that not all NDEs are pleasant. Some are violent, with some apparent medieval examples of NDEs occurring to men who were being attacked by demons or having to walk across a bridge with fire or a deep, dark pit beneath. [32]

The reasons Glynn gives for NDEs not being hallucinations, whether drug induced or not, is not convincing since by subjecting people to these gases they experience much the same thing as people who had actual NDEs. Wouldn’t they be considered to be hallucinating due to those gases? I'd say so.

A bit later on another naturalistic cause Glynn argues against is hypercarbia (elevated levels of carbon dioxide) but as with the example I just gave above people had elivated carbon dioxide levels and had NDE experiences. So Glynn's objection is false.

Next, Glynn argues against the “birth tunnel memory” explanation and I agree this is false explanation since “[t]here is no evidence of infantile memories of any kind. Furthermore, the birth canal does not look like a tunnel and besides the infant's head is normally down and its eyes are closed.” [33]

Next up is endorphins. Glynn says,

[A]s Fenwick explains, neither artificial nor natural opiates have been shown to induce the NDE state. Injecting patients with morphine will not bring on an NDE or even feelings of ecstasy. Patients who suffer grand mal seizures have unusually high endorphin levels following the episode. But rather than feeling ecstatic, they feel drained and exhausted.

What Glynn seems to fail to realize is that it's likely a combination of factors that cause NDEs and OBEs so arguing that one factor by itself doesn't cause this or that is not a very good argument. Blackwell argues that endorphins are responsible for the euphoric feelings felt during NDEs [34] though as Glynn points out,

[I]t requires a matter of hours for the body to remove the excess endorphins. This should provide an extended period of relief from pain. But, characteristically, near-death experiencers who have the experience during a resuscitation report a recurrence of pain immediately after “returning” to their bodies after the few-minutes-long NDE. (125)

Of course, as I said previously, Blackmore only argues that the role of endorphins only seem to be related to the feelings of euphoria, and is not the cause of an NDE. However, I do find it strange that patients who likely would have had endorphins throughout their blood stream (since a release of endorphins near death is very common [35]) continue to feel pain after being resuscitated. But, as Blackwell notes, “it is still not known just how far endorphins are implicated in the NDE.” [36]

Despite these uncertainties, completely dismissing the possible role of endorphins is a bit extreme as some experiences (such as the euphoria) seem to be explained by the release of endorphins, but there is still much uncertainty.

Finally, Glynn addresses the role of the temporal lobe. He argues,

Many features of the near-death experience would correlate with what is known about the right temporal lobe: It is thought to be the seat of emotion, to provide the sense of existential certainty of experience. […] A researcher at Canada's Laurentian University, Michael Persinger, stimulated the right temporal lobe of 200 volunteers electromagnetically. About a quarter reported experiencing an “out-of-body-like” experience and the sense of another “presence” near them. (Most just felt dizziness and tingling.) (Persinger's laboratory is committed to proving that all religious experience is reducible to intrusions of right temporal lobe consciousness on the left temporal lobe, but for now this is no more than a theory.) But such transient perceptions hardly add up to a persuasive model for the entire NDE, which as Fenwick notes, can include language, body image, narrative line, even smells – factors that are known to involve other parts of the brain. (127)

As I've said before, there is likely a combination of the parts of the brain that are responsible for these experiences so by arguing that one part of the brain does not elicit such and such response is not persuasive. There is also evidence that both the right and left temporal lobes are involved in these experiences, which can account for the language element, since the left lobe is involved in speech and language. [37] This is also evidence that there is a combination of various parts of the brain that are causing these experiences.

I also find telling Glynn's obvious bias against Persinger's research, so much so that he came right out and scoffed at his attempts to find naturalistic explanations for these experiences. Emotional reasons for his beliefs, anyone?

Despite that, many experiences when the temporal lobes are stimulated are nearly identical to NDEs in many ways, including having OBEs, clear images of memories (similar if not much the same as the “life review” of NDE experiencers), feelings of happiness and peace. [38]

As I've shown throughout the review of this chapter, a lot of Glynn's claims have been falsified and he is guilty of ignoring evidence that doesn't suit his argument.

I do not want to convey the impression that Glynn sees near-death/out-of-body experiences as absolute proof of the afterlife, though he obviously sees this as some kind of evidence. He writes at the end of the section:

What we can say with certainty is this: At present no accepted physiological theory can explain the near-death experience, and some lines of inquiry that once looked very promising – such as hallucination and anoxia – look much much less promising today. This is not to foreclose the possibility that science may explain more of the phenomenon as time passes. […] But what we have at present is just hypothesis and speculation – side by side with the still-unexplained evidence, from Sabom and others, of seemingly accurate out-of-body perceptions on the part of near-death experiencers. (128)

As I've shown not only has more recent research disproven nearly all of his claims, but even the available research at the time he wrote his book he often ignored. On the other hand, at least he is more open-minded than most Christians I've encountered in my several years of writing book reviews.

It is true that near-death experiences are still being researched, but as I said in the beginning of this chapter, that is no reason to make use of the “god of the gap” mindset and argue these experiences are some form of supernatural phenomenon. It seems from the research I've looked at that much of these experiences have some likely naturalistic explanations and there is no need to argue that they are proof of the afterlife.

Chapter Five: Reason and Spirit

This last chapter is a brief summary of the book and the author begins a discussion about secular and religious morality and how reason and what he calls spirit are codependent. I have no comments about this chapter. I've discussed the sources of secular morality already and have dealt with the Nazi and Communist argument several times. [39]


This was a very interesting and pretty fun project. I re-read a book I had read a few times while on my path towards my eventual disbelief and it's fascinating to me to see the vast differences between my views then and now. Not to mention my increased knowledge of these subjects. While I was often unsure (if not slightly convinced) of many of Glynn's claims those several years ago, now I see all to clearly his biases and errors in thinking and, through my research, his many factual errors.

During the writing of most of this review I did my best to cite research that Glynn would have had access to because I didn't feel it would have been fair to argue against Glynn's book with more recent scientific knowledge that he wouldn't have had access to.

This book is certainly interesting and well written, but it suffers from the same flawed thinking as Christians today.


1. The Making of an Atheist: A Review

2. Ibid.

3. The Fallacy of Fine-Tuning, A New Book By Victor J. Stenger

4. God: The Failed Hypothesis, by Victor J. Stenger, Prometheus Books, 2007; 145-149

5. Did Man Create God? Is Your Spiritual Brain at Peace with Your Thinking Brain?, by David E. Comings, M.D., Hope Press, 2008; 272

6. Ibid.; 272

7. The Illustrated A Brief History of Time, by Stephen Hawking, Bantam Books, 1996; 67

8. Evolution as Fact and Theory (accessed 12-22-10)

9. The Making of an Atheist: A Review

10. The Cambridge Companion to Atheism, edited by Michael Martin, Cambridge University Press, 2007; 306

11.; accessed 12-27-10

12.; accessed 12-17-10

13.; accessed 12-27-10

14. Ibid.

15. Ibid.

16. Handbook of Religion and Health, by Harold G. Koenig, Michael E. McCullough, and David B. Larson, Oxford University Press, 2001; 60

17. Society without God: What the Least Religious Nations Can Tell Us about Contentment , by Phil Zuckerman, New York University Press, 2008; 26, 27

18. Religion, Health and Medicine in African Americans: Implications for Physicians, by Jeff Levin, PhD, MPH; Linda M. Chatters, PhD; and Robert Joseph Taylor, PhD, Journal of the National Medical Association, Vol. 97, No. 2, Feburary 2005

19. Field Analysis of the Literature on Religion, Spirituality, and Health; accessed 1-6-11

20. Being religious may not make you healthier after all; accessed 1-6-11

21. Religion makes you a fat non-smoker; accessed 1-6-11

22. Well-Being, Atheism, and Religion

23. Consciousness Explained, by Daniel C. Dennett, Back Bay Books, 1992; 33-39

24. Dying to Live: Near-Death Experiences, by Susan Blackmore, Prometheus Books, 1993; 118

25. Ibid.; 119

26. Ibid.; 118

27. Memory Distortion: How Minds, Brains, and Societies Reconstruct the Past, edited by Daniel L. Schacter, Harvard University Press, 1997 - This book was even available (in hardback in 1995) during or before the writing of Glynn’s book so he had access to this information but ignored it.

28. Dying to Live: Near-Death Experiences; 48

29. - accessed 1-11-11

30. Dying to Live: Near-Death Experiences; 52

31. Ibid.; 54

32. Ibid.; 14-15

33. Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of Our Time, by Michael Shermer, Henry Holt and Co. LLC, 2002; 80

34. Dying to Live: Near-Death Experiences; 106

35. Ibid.; 106

36. The Skeptic Encyclopedia of Pseudoscience, Vol. 1, edited by Michael Shermer, ABC-CLIO, 2002; 154

37. Did Man Create God? Is Your Spiritual Brain at Peace with Your Thinking Brain?, by David E. Comings, M.D., Hope Press, 2008; 387

38. Dying to Live: Near-Death Experiences; 202-206

39. Communism and Atheism: Revised and Updated; Christian Apologists Just Don't Understand Morality, Part 1