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September 27, 2005 Leave a comment Go to comments

Societies worse off ‘when they have God on their side’

RELIGIOUS belief can cause damage to a society, contributing towards high murder rates, abortion, sexual promiscuity and suicide, according to research published today.

According to the study, belief in and worship of God are not only unnecessary for a healthy society but may actually contribute to social problems.

The study counters the view of believers that religion is necessary to provide the moral and ethical foundations of a healthy society.

It compares the social peformance of relatively secular countries, such as Britain, with the US, where the majority believes in a creator rather than the theory of evolution. Many conservative evangelicals in the US consider Darwinism to be a social evil, believing that it inspires atheism and amorality.

“In general, higher rates of belief in and worship of a creator correlate with higher rates of homicide, juvenile and early adult mortality, STD infection rates, teen pregnancy and abortion in the prosperous democracies.

Can we PLEASE drop this “secularism is bad for society” crap now? Please? I can’t wait for Agape Press to weigh in on this.

I should point out that this is more corroboration for the final paragraph in my faith post.

EDIT: I’m also going to point out that I’m not particularly interested in religion being bad for society; that conclusion doesn’t seem warranted. I’m interested insofar as there appears to be absolutely no correlation between religiosity and societal health.

(via Pharyngula)

UPDATE: Here’s the actual study. There doesn’t appear to be anything flagrantly dishonest about it, though its significance shouldn’t be overplayed. The negative correlations are very weak and the author does seem to realize this. His strongest conclusion is the one I made in the above edit.

UPDATE 2: I thought this short comment by William Dembski was pretty funny. Shouldn’t he read the study? Shouldn’t he offer some sort of support for his rather pathetic speculation that the data was fudged? I’ll leave you to ponder those questions.

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  1. September 28, 2005 at 4:51 am

    I think he should go through the notes he took during his professorial courses when he was told “correlation does not equal causation”.

    Sorry Jeff, but this guy doesn’t have enough evidence from the other side of the fence (ie. athiestic/agnostic countries being crime free) to finish his comparison.

    Paul is a paid consultant for the Council for Secular Humanism. Methinks he found what he was looking for.

    This complaint in coming from a decidedly non-Christian person (me). I find that this is just another bash America study, where the author went looking for his conclusion and found it.

    These sentences alone are the proof of that: “The most theistic prosperous democracy, the U.S., is exceptional, but not in the manner Franklin predicted. The United States is almost always the most dysfunctional of the developing democracies, sometimes spectacularly so, and almost always scores poorly.”

    So his conclusion is that a country with plenty of money, a whole lot of religion and too much freedom for the people is a bad thing.

    Yep, I can see Marx sitting on his left shoulder.

    While I can agree with your request that “Can we PLEASE drop this “secularism is bad for society” crap now?”, I will not take this shit from a puke (Gregory Paul) who spits at either and/or all my money, my religion (or freedom to have a lack of it) and my freedoms endowed by whatever creator the writers of the Constitution thought they were describing.

  2. September 28, 2005 at 1:39 pm

    He never says religion is the cause of problems he looks at. He explicitly says this study isn’t enough to show causation:

    This study is a first, brief look at an important subject that has been almost entirely neglected by social scientists. The primary intent is to present basic correlations of the elemental data. Some conclusions that can be gleaned from the plots are outlined. This is not an attempt to present a definitive study that establishes cause versus effect between religiosity, secularism and societal health. It is hoped that these original correlations and results will spark future research and debate on the issue.

    It seems to me that the article author is the one making unwarranted conclusions.

    These sentences alone are the proof of that: “The most theistic prosperous democracy, the U.S., is exceptional, but not in the manner Franklin predicted. The United States is almost always the most dysfunctional of the developing democracies, sometimes spectacularly so, and almost always scores poorly.”

    So his conclusion is that a country with plenty of money, a whole lot of religion and too much freedom for the people is a bad thing.

    His dysfunctional comments refer to the statistics he looked at: “homicide, juvenile and early adult mortality, STD infection rates, teen pregnancy, and abortion.” There’s also nothing about any sort of freedom in the paper.

    While I can agree with your request that “Can we PLEASE drop this “secularism is bad for society” crap now?”, I will not take this shit from a puke (Gregory Paul) who spits at either and/or all my money, my religion (or freedom to have a lack of it) and my freedoms endowed by whatever creator the writers of the Constitution thought they were describing.

    That’s fine, except Paul does none of those things.

  3. September 29, 2005 at 4:07 am

    I’m afraid that I’m going to have to disagree with you here, Jeff.

    First off, it was not the author of the article I quoted, it was Paul himself. See Section 18 of your link to the JRS in the first update you put in. Paul explicitly focuses in on the US in those sentences and finds fault due to his ‘research’.

    Particularly with these words “The most theistic prosperous democracy, the U.S.,”

    He singles out ‘theistic’ (religion), ‘prosperous’ (wealth) and ‘democracy’ (freedoms). I do not see how it could be taken in a good way. If you can, please try to let me know since in the next sentence he says that we’re “sometimes spectacularly dysfunctional”.

    While I’d admit that we are far from perfect, we’re a lot better democracy than the vast majority out there.

    I saw nothing in there about the state Israel which, while not a theistic state, is certainly not a secular one either. He also did not look at democratic states with high populations of Buddhists, Hindis or even Taoists.

    This is an attack solely on Christianity in general and the US in particular. He uses the UK as an example of a secular state, yet that country has its own official church. Germany gives taxpayer money to any group who can scrounge up enough members to call themselves a church.

    He also does not make note that while crime rates in the US are high, that they have been steadily falling for the last decade with both robbery and murder falling by 3.6% just this last year.

    That is not a figure to sneeze at and it utterly fowls his study up.

    What with the biggest Christian in the White House in decades in office for close to five years and a supposed Christian Right majority in both houses, for even longer every single one of the numbers he cites should be through the roof.

    But they’re not.

    As for “He never says religion is the cause of problems he looks at”, I think this line,

    “The primary intent is to present basic correlations of the elemental data. Some conclusions that can be gleaned from the plots are outlined.”

    shows that even if he is not being upfront with his accusations, he is at least hinting at them.

    After listening to one of the local Seattle leftists at the #1 talk station in town go off on this subject for an hour stating that this study absolutely proves that Christianity is bad for America. While what the host was saying about Paul’s work and what you think Paul is saying may be two different things due to the hosts own previously held viewpoint on the subject influencing his take on it, I have found no evidence in the study itself that suggests that Paul meant it any other way.

    Gregory Paul doesn’t like Christianity, as is evident with his rabid disregard for competent research and his previous writings with the CSH. His particular religion of choice is Secular Humanism and he is using the same tactics as Fred Phelps to forward his agenda, implying that a particular activity is bad for society; in this case, practicing Christianity.

    While it is his right to push his agenda, I find it disgusting that he would use those tactics he claims to dislike to do so.

  4. September 29, 2005 at 11:28 am

    He singles out ‘theistic’ (religion), ‘prosperous’ (wealth) and ‘democracy’ (freedoms). I do not see how it could be taken in a good way. If you can, please try to let me know since in the next sentence he says that we’re “sometimes spectacularly dysfunctional”.

    He’s only looking at prosperous democracies in the study. The statement you single out is saying the equivalent of “the most theistic of the countries I looked at, the U.S.” As I said before, dysfunctional refers to the statistics he looked at.

    “While I’d admit that we are far from perfect, we’re a lot better democracy than the vast majority out there.”

    Based on what? If you’re disagreeing with Paul’s statistics, point out where he’s wrong. He’s only talking about “societal health,” remember. There are other factors going into a complete judgement of a country. I don’t see Paul making a complete judgement about the U.S.

    I saw nothing in there about the state Israel which, while not a theistic state, is certainly not a secular one either. He also did not look at democratic states with high populations of Buddhists, Hindis or even Taoists.

    I don’t know why Israel isn’t in there. As Paul said, it’s preliminary research. Also, can you name a prosperous democracy with a high population of “Buddhists, Hindis or even Taoists”?

    This is an attack solely on Christianity in general and the US in particular. He uses the UK as an example of a secular state, yet that country has its own official church. Germany gives taxpayer money to any group who can scrounge up enough members to call themselves a church.

    So what? Our government is pretty secular, yet our population is quite religious. He’s looking at religiosity of populations, not how secular a government is.

    He also does not make note that while crime rates in the US are high, that they have been steadily falling for the last decade with both robbery and murder falling by 3.6% just this last year.

    That is not a figure to sneeze at and it utterly fowls his study up.

    What with the biggest Christian in the White House in decades in office for close to five years and a supposed Christian Right majority in both houses, for even longer every single one of the numbers he cites should be through the roof.

    But they’re not.

    As Paul points out, this is preliminary. Someone should certainly look at changes in religiosity versus changes in crime rates. Again, the study is looking at the religiosity of populations, not government. Government policy affected the measures looked at hasn’t changed drastically and as far as I know, neither has the religiosity of the U.S. in the last several years. It’s not like the study is saying that by putting religious people in charge of our government the country magically falls apart.

    “The primary intent is to present basic correlations of the elemental data. Some conclusions that can be gleaned from the plots are outlined.”

    shows that even if he is not being upfront with his accusations, he is at least hinting at them.

    I don’t seem him hinting at any such thing. Why not look at the conclusions section to see the conclusions he gleans? Look, unless you’re saying he distorted his statistics, I don’t see a reason for saying he’s attacking America. He found what he found. Point out where he’s wrong then we can talk about attacks.

    After listening to one of the local Seattle leftists at the #1 talk station in town go off on this subject for an hour stating that this study absolutely proves that Christianity is bad for America. While what the host was saying about Paul’s work and what you think Paul is saying may be two different things due to the hosts own previously held viewpoint on the subject influencing his take on it, I have found no evidence in the study itself that suggests that Paul meant it any other way.

    He pretty plainly states that “[t]his is not an attempt to present a definitive study that establishes cause versus effect between religiosity, secularism and societal health.” I don’t see a reason to attribute conclusions to him beyond that.

    Gregory Paul doesn’t like Christianity, as is evident with his rabid disregard for competent research and his previous writings with the CSH. His particular religion of choice is Secular Humanism and he is using the same tactics as Fred Phelps to forward his agenda, implying that a particular activity is bad for society; in this case, practicing Christianity.

    You haven’t shown a disregard for competent research by Paul. Also, what’s bad about saying a certain practice or ideology is bad for society? We do that all the time: you think liberalism is bad for the country, I think conservatism is, I’m sure we both think dishonesty is, etc. We should be looking at the evidence for each. The comparison to Phelps is hardly warranted; there’s no indication that Paul wants to ban religion or Christianty, just as you and I don’t want to ban anything I listed above.

  5. October 2, 2005 at 5:37 am

    [C]an you name a prosperous democracy with a high population of “Buddhists, Hindis or even Taoists”?

    Buddhism — Japan.
    Hindu — Depending on how far one wanted to stretch the definition of ‘prosperous’, India.
    Taoism — Taiwan.

  6. October 2, 2005 at 12:35 pm

    Japan’s included and I don’t think India would be considered properous. Taiwan would seem to fit, though.

  7. October 4, 2005 at 1:37 am

    Sorry for the delay in my response, family matters intervened. My apologies. So now, where were we?

    Ah yes, First up, thanks to Chad for a list of non-Christian democracies. I would classify India as ‘Prospering, but not yet prosperous’.

    I can’t tell you why Taiwan isn’t included in Paul’s study. Maybe he forgot that they were a democracy? I also notice that he left out S. Korea.

    As for Japan, I would like to point out that as a nation, they have far more suicides per capita than the US and while that may be a cultural thing, it is related to the old Shinto cult than the actual dominant religion.

    Another blow to Paul’s “research”.

    I think you misconstrued my reference to Phelps. I only mentioned his tactics are being used by Paul. Since I have no idea what Paul’s actual agenda is, I would not want to allude to his wanting to ban Christianity. That would be an even more foolhearty venture than trying to ban drugs, religion being a drug to some, after all.

    Dysfunctional IS a judgmental statement. I see our society as functioning at a rather good pace. We don’t have roving bands of thugs, sponsored by the government or by major corporations killing citizens, I still wake up in the morning to law and order reigning supreme across the land, you and I are both allowed to discuss what we want here and ANSWER can still compare Bush to Hitler without fear of being thrown in jail and tortured for the hell of it.

    What exactly is so bad here?

    Sure, we have citizens with drug addictions who commit crimes to feed their habits. Yes, there are gangs of white men with little to no hair on their heads who hate everyone who isn’t pinkish in skin tone. And of course, there are the illegal immigrants who wake up every morning breaking federal law by their mere presence in our fair land. But all in all, folks still wake up every morning and go about their daily business and eat three square, if not oversized, meals per day.

    Big whup, so our crime rates are higher than the UK’s. I don’t get my picture taken by the government 50 times as walk down the city block either. Also, ours are going down while theirs are going up. Again, why is this not noted in his study?

    I am not disagreeing with Paul’s stats, I’m just disagreeing with his conclusions, preliminary or not. I would measure a society’s health by the happiness if its citizens and the solidness of the foundation of the country.

    I don’t see our representative republic collapsing into chaos anytime soon, but I did see, up until last week, Germany’s Chancellor refusing to relinquish his position despite the results at the polls and a new majority in their legislative body.

    If Paul wanted to actually do more than collect a bunch of numbers and then top them off with his opinion, he would not have allowed the release of this ‘preliminary’ study. In case you haven’t read the news, religiosity is increasing in America, both through the injection of our new incoming immigrants and the revival of some people’s belief structure after September 11th. Churches reported increased attendance, a portion of which HAS fallen off in the years since, but the numbers are still higher than they were before that date.

    Oddly enough, firearms sales also increased after that.

    Yet with both more church going folk and guns on the streets of America, crime is still going down.

    Paul should have waited until he looked at the entire picture instead of releasing this pap.

  8. October 4, 2005 at 12:34 pm

    As for Japan, I would like to point out that as a nation, they have far more suicides per capita than the US and while that may be a cultural thing, it is related to the old Shinto cult than the actual dominant religion.

    Another blow to Paul’s “research”.

    No, it would be a blow if you looked at suicide rates and found a correlation with secularism. Suicide is certainly an interesting statistic to look at and should be included in other studies.

    Dysfunctional IS a judgmental statement. I see our society as functioning at a rather good pace. We don’t have roving bands of thugs, sponsored by the government or by major corporations killing citizens, I still wake up in the morning to law and order reigning supreme across the land, you and I are both allowed to discuss what we want here and ANSWER can still compare Bush to Hitler without fear of being thrown in jail and tortured for the hell of it.

    What exactly is so bad here?

    I still don’t think you’re seeing the point I’m making. Dysfunctional is not meant to be an overall judgement of this country. It’s a judgement based on our position according to the statitistics analyzed.

    Big whup, so our crime rates are higher than the UK’s. I don’t get my picture taken by the government 50 times as walk down the city block either. Also, ours are going down while theirs are going up. Again, why is this not noted in his study?

    Crime is going down in the UK, actually, according to the BCS.

    Still, I’m all for looking at how changes in religiosity correlate to changes in crime, health, etc. You still seem to want this to be completely comprehensive, which I don’t understand. It’s a preliminary study looking at one aspect of the relationship between religion and society. What’s so terrible about this?

    I am not disagreeing with Paul’s stats, I’m just disagreeing with his conclusions, preliminary or not. I would measure a society’s health by the happiness if its citizens and the solidness of the foundation of the country.

    That’s certainly part of what I would judge a country by, but don’t those other things factor in? I still don’t see where he concluded that the U.S. is bad in general, rather than in a relatively bad position regarding the statistics looked at.

    As a side note, I looked at several OECD countries and found a correlation regarding happiness. I don’t remember exactly what it was, but it was a very weak correlation towards secular societies (measured by church attendance). Happiness is certainly something to be looked at along with suicide but as I said before, this isn’t the be all end all of studies on this subject.

    If Paul wanted to actually do more than collect a bunch of numbers and then top them off with his opinion, he would not have allowed the release of this ‘preliminary’ study. In case you haven’t read the news, religiosity is increasing in America, both through the injection of our new incoming immigrants and the revival of some people’s belief structure after September 11th. Churches reported increased attendance, a portion of which HAS fallen off in the years since, but the numbers are still higher than they were before that date.

    I don’t agree. Preliminary studies are useful in at least getting people thinking about this. He only concludes that religiosity correlates with lower levels of some measures of societal health. If anything, he overstates the correlations a little, but I don’t see him jumping to the conclusion you seem to think he does.

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