Category Archives: religion

Religion and Societal Dysfunction

Dysfunctional societies and those under extreme stress rely on religion as a coping mechanism; it is “a natural invention of human minds in response to a defective habitat”.

This is one conclusion from Gregory Paul who has released the findings from his research on the incidence of religious belief and how it affects the overall ‘health’ of a society.

[Paul’s] earlier, 2005, research […] showed strong positive correlations between nations’ religious belief and levels of murder, teenage pregnancy, drug abuse and other indicators of dysfunction. It seemed to show, at the very least, that being religious does not necessarily make for a better society. […]

In this latest research Paul measures “popular religiosity” for developed nations, and then compares it against the “successful societies scale” (SSS) which includes such things such as homicides, the proportion of people incarcerated, infant mortality, sexually transmitted diseases, teenage births and abortions, corruption, income inequality, and many others. In other words it is a way of summing up a society’s health.

The results?

The 1st world nations with the highest levels of belief in God, and the greatest religious observance are also the ones with all the signs of societal dysfunction. These correlations are truly stunning. They are not “barely significant” or marginal in any way. Many, such as those between popular religiosity and teenage abortions and STDs have correlation coefficients over 0.9 and the overall correlation with the SSS is 0.7 with the US included and 0.5 without. These are powerful relationships.

As always.

Gregory Paul and Phil Zuckerman wrote the essay Why the Gods are Not Winning for Edge.

Statistics on Social Mobility and Belief Systems

Careers in law, medicine and the media are become more exclusive, while citizens from deprived areas continue to be failed by education. New Statesman provides a summary of (some) social mobility issues in the U.K., including these somewhat startling statistics:

  • Privately educated candidates account for 7 per cent of the population, but occupy more than half of the top professional jobs.
  • 75 per cent of judges, 45 per cent of senior civil servants, and a third of MPs are privately educated.
  • More than 4 in 10 places and Oxford and Cambridge go to privately educated candidates.
  • 600,000 children take GCSEs annually. 360,000 do not get the five good grades required for university or employment (60 per cent).
  • 30 per cent of children on free school meals do not get good GCSEs.
  • Of students getting 3 As at A-Level, just 0.5 per cent were eligible for free school meals.

I am reminded of another set of statistics–these from Foreign Policy on various belief systems in America:

  • Percentage of Americans who believe in angels: 55
  • Percentage of Americans who believe in evolution: 39
  • Percentage of Americans who believe in anthropogenic global warming: 36
  • Percentage of Americans who believe in ghosts: 34
  • Percentage of Americans who believe in UFOs: 34

Additionally:

  • Percentage of Americans who believe in extrasensory perception, or ESP: 48
  • Percentage of Americans who believe in the existence of spells or witchcraft: 19

Richard Dawkins and Hugh Hewitt Interview

The former Simonyi Professor for the Public Understanding of Science and founder of the Foundation for Reason and Science, Richard Dawkins, was recently invited to appear on The Hugh Hewitt Show where the two discussed religion, Rome, evolution and much more.

One particular exchange (the Okay, do you believe Jesus turned water into wine? incident) has been quoted widely, but what follows is my favourite exchange from the interview.

Richard Dawkins (RD): […]You can never be absolutely certain that anything doesn’t exist. But you can show that it’s unlikely. That’s a pretty good, not exactly a final conclusion, but it’s certainly worth saying.
Hugh Hewitt (HH): Isn’t the universe itself unlikely, though?
RD: Well, but it’s there, isn’t it? And we’re in it, so we can see what we see. We find ourselves in a universe. So however unlikely, it clearly did happen.
HH: And so that’s what [David Berlinski’s] argument is, is that you can’t say yes, we have to accept the universe as unlikely, but we can accept that God is unlikely, just because the one unlikely event is visible to us, and the other unlikely event isn’t.
RD: I think there is a difference there. I mean, for the universe to come into existence, physicists are working on understanding that. And the beginning of the universe, as physicists would now understand, it would be a supremely simple event. And admittedly, it’s still something that requires a lot of understanding. It’s a very difficult thing to understand. But for God to exist, a God capable of developing the laws of physics, a God capable of answering prayers and forgiving sins, and reading our thoughts, and all that kind of thing, that requires, that’s an immensely complicated entity. That’s the kind of entity which we now explain by evolution, that’s the kind of entity that comes into being as a result of a long, slow, gradual process, long after the beginning of the universe.
HH: But the universe is itself awfully complicated, Professor Dawkins. Where did it come from?
RD: Well, the universe is not awfully complicated at the beginning. It has become very complicated through such processes as evolution by natural selection.
HH: No, I’m talking about the whole cosmos. Where did that come from, 13 billion years ago?
RD: It came from the big bang, which is not a complex process. It’s a simple process.
HH: And what preceded the big bang?
RD: Well, physicists won’t answer that question. They will say that time itself began in the big bang, and so the question what preceded it is illegitimate.
HH: What do you think?
RD: I’m not enough of a physicist to understand what I’m saying, but I have to say that that’s what physicists say.
HH: So when you consider before the big bang, what does Richard Dawkins think was there?
RD: I don’t consider the question, because I recognize that it’s an intuitively appealing question. I recognize that I, along with everybody else, wants to ask that question. Then I talk to physicists who say you can no more ask what came before the big bang than you can ask what’s north of the North Pole.

via Pharyngula

Online Dating Statistics: Religion and Race

The online dating website OkCupid has a rather fascinating blog, OkTrends, written by two of the four mathematics majors who founded the site.

Still in it’s infancy the blog has a few fascinating posts studying data gleamed from their expansive user base.

Starting out with a brief look at their matching algorithm and the control group used for their studies, here’s data on how different religions ‘match’ on the site. Conclusions, taken verbatim from the post:

  • Jews and Agnostics get along better with people. Jewish men, in particular, have an above average match percentage with every religious group. They even match Muslim women better than Muslim men do.
  • Muslims of both sexes and Hindu men get along worse.
  • Catholics are more universally liked than Protestants.
  • The less serious you are about religion, the better liked you are, even by very religious people.

The analysts also noted how Muslims and Protestants on the site tend to be more intense about their beliefs than other religions, and Jews and Agnostics are by far the least serious.

Another sensitive issue tackled through the magic of online dating statistics is that of race and the reply rates between them. Some more observations:

  • Black women are […] the most likely to reply to your first message. In many cases, their response rate is one and a half times the average, and overall black women reply about a quarter more often.
  • White men get more responses.
  • White women prefer white men to the exclusion of everyone else.
  • Asian and Hispanic women prefer [white men] even more exclusively [than white women].
  • Men don’t write black women back [as] often than they should (statistically speaking, obviously).
  • Black women reply the most, yet get by far the fewest replies. Essentially every race—including other blacks—singles them out for the cold shoulder.
  • Even though white males get the most replies, they respond about 20% less often than non-white males.
  • Between 2 and 7% of males and females of all races believe interracial marriage is a bad idea.
  • Around 20% of males and females of all races, except whites, have a racial background/skin colour preference.
  • 40% of white males and 54% of white females have this preference.

It’s worth noting the following:

Just because a group has low match percentages, even across the board, that does not mean they are bad people. It just means that they’re harder to please. The converse is also true. […] In any event, please keep in mind that each individual has designed his own matching criteria, so the poor-matching groups aren’t failing some outsider’s imposed system. Why, for example, Hindu men would match worst with Hindu women is a mystery.

Mysteries of Evolution and an Evolving Dawkins

It is time to move away from anti-religious sentiment/philosophy and instead appeal to the logic of those who refute the theory of evolution. This appears to be the premise of Richard Dawkins’ latest book, The Greatest Show on Earth, where he “traces the scientific investigation of biological change as if it were a crime-scene investigation – building up what he considers an ironclad case for evolution in action”.

That quote comes from a recent Cosmic Log article in which Alan Boyle looks at and recapitulates Dawkins’ evolving philosophy before presenting a wide-ranging (and often amusing) interview.

From that article, here are Richard Dawkins’ four favourite mysteries that still need to be solved:

  • The origin of life.
  • The origin of sex.
  • The origin of consciousness.
  • The rise of morality.

Thanks, Alex