The Science of Religion

Though no one is currently able to prove the existence of one god or many, much evidence of the power of religious belief has been found. Religion—from the Abrahamic faiths of Islam, Christianity, and Judaism to the Dharmic religions of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Sikhism—has shaped cultures, laws, and lives for thousands of years. While experts disagree on what exactly constitutes a religion, most agree there are several thousand worldwide. Over half of religious people currently adhere to one of the three major Abrahamic faiths, with Dharmic and East Asian religions claiming significant numbers as well.

Organized religion has inarguably been responsible for many of history’s wars, atrocities, and injustices. Yet it’s not all bad. Religion can help people make sense of a confusing world, provide motivation, encourage altruism, and bind communities together. In fact, though the causal link is currently unclear, some evidence suggests that religious people may be physically and mentally healthier than nonbelievers.

Because many holidays, customs, and artworks stem from religion or deal with religious themes, faith factors into many individuals' everyday functioning—whether those people are religious or not.

Why People Believe in a Higher Power

Humans ask questions: It’s what they do. Since humanity's earliest ancestors walked the earth, individuals have wondered where they came from, why they’re here, and what it all means. Religion, by and large, represents society’s attempts to answer those questions. While it isn’t always able to achieve that goal—many religious claims can be disproven by science—it often succeeds at providing followers with structure, a code of ethics, and a sense of purpose. In certain parts of the world, but particularly in Western culture, organized religion’s influence appears to be on the decline. But even people who don’t believe in any type of god or dogma will continue to ask the complex, unknowable questions religion aims to answer.

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