Reasons to Believe

Why do people gravitate toward religion as they age?

While waiting in a doctor’s office recently, I checked out an article in AARP The Magazine titled “Life After Death.” Its stated purpose: In an exclusive survey of 1,011 people 50 and over, AARP The Magazine sought to learn just what Americans in the second half of life think about life after death. In general, the survey reflected a high percentage of belief in the afterlife, increasing multiculturalism, and doctrinal inconsistency.

Here are several results:
Belief in life after death 73 percent
Belief in heaven 86 percent
Belief in hell 70 percent

The article did not cite statistics from a younger demographic, but it seemed to imply that religious belief either stayed the same or increased with age. Alan F. Segal, Barnard College professor of religion and author of Life after Death: A History of the Afterlife in Western Religion notes: In the ’60s and ’70s there was this thought that the boomers were not particularly religious; they were busy finding jobs and setting up house. But as they entered their fourth decade, they returned. I’m not sure it was a religious revivalit may have been they were just returning. And Huston Smith, eminent scholar and author of The World’s Religions: Our Great Wisdom Traditions, states: Belief in an afterlife has risen in the last 50 years. Serious thinkers are beginning to see through the mistake modernity made in thinking that science is the oracle of truth.

First, a disclaimer: As anyone familiar with Reasons To Believe knows, RTB adopts a decidedly pro-science stance. Truth can be found in science and in Scripture, as both are properly understood. Now, in my ongoing attempt to understand naturalism and to compare it with the Christian worldview, I’d like to propose a couple of questions. (I do hope that our friendly Neighborhood Naturalist provides his usual well-crafted reply.)

1. Why do people gravitate toward religion as they age? Presumably, people become more educated and, hence, more enlightened overall as they mature. By today’s standards, people in the 5070 age group must be considered in their prime or late prime (with mental decline sometimes developing in truly advanced years). If naturalism is true, and one of mankind’s greatest challenges is lack of education, then why would naturalistic evolution produce the results above, where more people adopt or re-embrace religious belief as they become more educated? If the answer is akin to some kind of evolutionary coping mechanism, wherein humanity developed a need to conjure belief in an afterlife in order to live more comfortably as the end neared, then I propose a second questionone that RTB philosopher Kenneth Samples has posed more than once:

2. If evolution produces false beliefs, then how can it be trusted? That is, if naturalism is true and it produces all religious beliefs including Christianity, which is ultimately false, then why put one’s confidence in a worldview that produces false beliefs? What do you think?

Subjects: Naturalism