left biblioblography: OH YE OF LITTLE FAITH

Saturday, July 22, 2006

OH YE OF LITTLE FAITH

Or:

THE SPIN DOCTORS’ WEB OF DECEIT IS GETTING JUST A LITTLE FRAYED

I encounter this constantly: we hear about how secularism (and/or atheism) is contributing to the ‘moral decay of society’.And no matter how much analysis our side does, no matter how logically we refute these arguments, no matter what results are presented, we hear all sorts of egregious nonsense. I myself have been accused of building strawmen (never been a farm boy, tain’t got a clue how to do that, hehehehe), quoting out of context, missing the point, positing false dilemmas, using a number of fallacies (hey, I use the appeal to ridicule, I admit it freely: but the rest? I can provide proof of my assertions).And we get accused of the same cognitive dissonance practiced by the other half of the debate. Special note here: THEY ALMOST NEVER PROVIDE ANYTHING OTHER THAN THE ACCUSATION.So let’s look at cold, hard numbers, shall we?

The Myth of Secular Moral Chaos
Sam Harris

(snip) One cannot criticize religious dogmatism for long without encountering the following claim, advanced as though it were a self-evident fact of nature: there is no secular basis for morality. Raping and killing children can only really be wrong, the thinking goes, if there is a God who says it is. Otherwise, right and wrong would be mere matters of social construction, and any society would be at liberty to decide that raping and killing children is actually a wholesome form of family fun. In the absence of God, John Wayne Gacy could be a better person than Albert Schweitzer, if only more people agreed with him.It is simply amazing how widespread this fear of secular moral chaos is, given how many misconceptions about morality and human nature are required to set it whirling in a person’s brain. There is undoubtedly much to be said against the spurious linkage between faith and morality, but the following three points should suffice.
(snip)One of the greatest challenges facing civilization in the twenty-first century is for human beings to learn to speak about their deepest personal concerns—about ethics, spiritual experience, and the inevitability of human suffering—in ways that are not flagrantly irrational. Nothing stands in the way of this project more than the respect we accord religious faith. Incompatible religious doctrines have Balkanized our world into separate moral communities, and these divisions have become a continuous source of human conflict. The idea that there is a necessary link between religious faith and morality is one of the principal myths keeping religion in good standing among otherwise reasonable men and women. And yet, it is a myth that is easily dispelled. ( end snip)

I encourage the reader to peruse the entire article.

Societies worse off 'when they have God on their side'
By Ruth Gledhill, Religion Correspondent

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 performance 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.Many liberal Christians and believers of other faiths hold that religious belief is socially beneficial, believing that it helps to lower rates of violent crime, murder, suicide, sexual promiscuity and abortion. The benefits of religious belief to a society have been described as its spiritual capital. But the study claims that the devotion of many in the US may actually contribute to its ills.The paper, published in the /Journal of Religion and Society/, a US academic journal, reports: Many Americans agree that their churchgoing nation is an exceptional, God-blessed, shining city on the hill that stands as an impressive example for an increasingly skeptical world.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.The United States is almost always the most dysfunctional of the developing democracies, sometimes spectacularly so.Gregory Paul, the author of the study and a social scientist, used data from the International Social Survey Programme, Gallup and other research bodies to reach his conclusions.He compared social indicators such as murder rates, abortion, suicide and teenage pregnancy.The study concluded that the US was the world’s only prosperous democracy where murder rates were still high, and that the least devout nations were the least dysfunctional. Mr. Paul said that rates of gonorrhea in adolescents in the US were up to 300 times higher than in less devout democratic countries. The US also suffered from uniquely high adolescent and adult syphilis infection rates, and adolescent abortion rates, the study suggested.Mr. Paul said: The study shows that England, despite the social ills it has, is actually performing a good deal better than the USA in most indicators, even though it is now a much less religious nation than America.He said that the disparity was even greater when the US was compared with other countries, including France, Japan and the Scandinavian countries. These nations had been the most successful in reducing murder rates, early mortality, sexually transmitted diseases and abortion, he added.Mr. Paul delayed releasing the study until now because of Hurricane Katrina. He said that the evidence accumulated by a number of different studies suggested that religion might actually contribute to social ills. I suspect that Europeans are increasingly repelled by the poor societal performance of the Christian states, he added.He said that most Western nations would become more religious only if the theory of evolution could be overturned and the existence of God scientifically proven. Likewise, the theory of evolution would not enjoy majority support in the US unless there was a marked decline in religious belief, Mr. Paul said.The non-religious, proevolution democracies contradict the dictum that a society cannot enjoy good conditions unless most citizens ardently believe in a moral creator.The widely held fear that a Godless citizenry must experience societal disaster is therefore refuted.

And if that wasn’t enough, we can see here

"a new report from the Institute of Economic Affairs examines what corruption is, what causes it, and what can prevent it. The report, Corruption - The World's Big C, concludes that there are several factors, which prevent corruption. These include free markets, transparent government and a free press. It intuitively makes sense; if the government is not in charge of trade licenses or regulating the market to excess, there should be fewer opportunities for corruption. A transparent and accountable government is less susceptible to corruption and a free press is able to expose corruption in both government and the private sector. Perhaps the most interesting finding is that personal honesty and virtue trump all the other factors. For instance, in Scandinavia, which has a relatively large government, the personal honesty of its citizens means that corruption is very low. Honesty was measured both by the Corruption Perception Index (CPI) and by the more informal method of dropping wallets, with money and identification inside them, in each country, and then seeing how many were sent back. "Wallet ratings" ranged from 100 percent in Denmark to 21 percent in Mexico. New Zealand had a "wallet rating" of 83 percent and we are second in the CPI ranking. This makes us one of the least corrupt countries in the world."

Here is the breakdown (courtesy of http://www.carnivalofthegodless.com/)

"I’ve included the table of top 10 wallet returners from the IEA report here (from p.133), along with an added column using rankings from an Adherents.com table of the “Top 50 Countries With Highest Proportion of Atheists / Agnostics” in which a higher ranking relates to a higher proportion of nonbelievers."

Relates to a higher proportion of nonbelievers.
Country - walletsreturned - nonbelievers (ranking)
Norway - 100 - 4th
Denmark - 100 - 3rd
Singapore - 90 - 38th
New Zealand - 83 - 29th
Finland - 80 - 7th
Scotland - 80 - 15th
Australia - 70 - 25th
Japan - 70 - 5th
South Korea - 70 - 9th
Spain - 70 - 27th


Another variable the IEA looked at related to the religiosity of a country’s citizens, as measured in a survey of world values conducted by the University of Michigan in 1991 and 1997. Here’s what the IEA analyst concluded…“The t-statistic for religiosity, however, was negative, implying that higher religiosity in the form of attendance at worship once or more per week is associated with more corruption. This was intuitively unexpected, and personally I find it disappointing that religiosity apparently does not provide a bulwark against corruption. But nor does it provide a bulwark against violence and terrorism, as witnessed in Northern Ireland for 30 years, along with the former Yugoslavia, Iraq and other countries of the Middle East, where religiosity succeeds in separating sections of the community and justifies their violence against each other.In 22 of the 27 countries the population attending church is predominantly Christian of various denominations: Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox. It is disheartening that high over-religiosity, far from repressing corruption, seems to make it more common.” (IEA: Corruption - The World’s Big C, pp. 163-164)”

So, not a bulwark against corruption, violence, or terrorism? Not indicative of personal honesty, either? What a surprise.
Higher moral ground indeed. More like maximum deniability, I'd say. Or just plain old denial.

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11 comments:

Beowulf said...

RA,

I think your confusing the difference of atheist having morals and *justifying* ones own morals. Just because you’re asked to justify a moral claim you make, it doesn’t mean that you are being told you are not moral. So if you say “X is immoral, I may challenge you on why you say X is immoral. The challenge is not, “BF is more moral than RA, so you cannot say X is immoral.”

Without a doubt, there are moral atheists. But I haven’t heard an atheist make a case of why they *ought* to be moral without undercutting their moral system. All that’s offered are descriptive ethics, rather than prescriptive ethics.

***

Regarding the article ‘Societies worse off 'when they have God on their side'” I saw that study when it came out and did some looking into it last year.

(i) Did you read the actual study, or just the article about it? Be honest. You can read the actual study here (Journal of Religion and Society).

(ii) The study does not establish that believers in God are more likely to commit suicide, perform abortions, etc. Moreover, it does not establish that religious beliefs lead people to do so. Being religious doesn’t make you immoral, just like being an atheist doesn’t make you immoral.

(iii) Gledhill's article uses terminology of *causation.* However, Gregory S. Paul states that he is only investigating correlations, *not* causal relationships. To say correlation = causation is a fallacy cum hoc ergo propter hoc. When dealing solely with statistical analysis, it is impossible to demonstrate that a contributory bond exists between two (or more) variables exclusively. That’s why professional statisticians don’t make those types of claims.

(iv) There also seems to be a large sum of missing data in his analysis. There are Eighteen countries included for data correlation. However, Italy, Greece, Finland, Luxembourg, and Belgium; are omitted without a lucid explanation. Paul briefly states the especially low rates [of homicide] in the more Catholic European states are statistical noise due to yearly fluctuations incidental to this sample; however, no statistical evidence corroborating this assertion is provided. With the rapid growth in India, they would seem to fit in his criterion of developing democracies. Why was it excluded? An explanation is never provided. It is also worthy to note that Czech Republic, Poland, Russia, and the rest of the new eastern European democracies were excluded. Why? No reason given.

(v) Based on the aforementioned omissions, Paul’s study seems to be suspiciously arbitrary and bias given hat those exclusions may have had significant impacts on the findings. He even admits to not having done a linear regression analysis (which would tell how closely something is correlated). Paul says that it’s due to “high variability of degree of correlation”; what does that tell you? It’a interesting that Paul is also identified as a speaker recommended by the Council for Secular Humanism, maybe there is an agenda behind the scenes you think?

I wouldn’t put too much stock in this study. So far, it’s only managed to start a new urban legend in the atheist online community.

beepbeepitsme said...

"Religion is an insult to human dignity. With or without it, you'd have good people doing good things and evil people doing bad things, but for good people to do bad things, it takes religion." Steven Weinberg

Krystalline Apostate said...

I think your confusing the difference of atheist having morals and *justifying* ones own morals. Just because you’re asked to justify a moral claim you make, it doesn’t mean that you are being told you are not moral. So if you say “X is immoral, I may challenge you on why you say X is immoral. The challenge is not, “BF is more moral than RA, so you cannot say X is immoral.”
No, I think perhaps you’re the 1 who’s confused.
I’m not justifying atheist morals. I’m pointing out that you folks don’t seem to have anything resembling a higher moral ground
Without a doubt, there are moral atheists. But I haven’t heard an atheist make a case of why they *ought* to be moral without undercutting their moral system. All that’s offered are descriptive ethics, rather than prescriptive ethics.
Pish-posh. I don’t need to make any such case. I can prove it by living properly.
(i) Did you read the actual study, or just the article about it? Be honest. You can read the actual study here (Journal of Religion and Society).
Why wouldn’t I be honest? Just the article.
(ii) The study does not establish that believers in God are more likely to commit suicide, perform abortions, etc. Moreover, it does not establish that religious beliefs lead people to do so. Being religious doesn’t make you immoral, just like being an atheist doesn’t make you immoral.
From the study:
“[18] 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 (Figures 1-9). 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 developed democracies, sometimes spectacularly so, and almost always scores poorly. The view of the U.S. as a “shining city on the hill” to the rest of the world is falsified when it comes to basic measures of societal health. Youth suicide is an exception to the general trend because there is not a significant relationship between it and religious or secular factors. No democracy is known to have combined strong religiosity and popular denial of evolution with high rates of societal health. Higher rates of non-theism and acceptance of human evolution usually correlate with lower rates of dysfunction, and the least theistic nations are usually the least dysfunctional. None of the strongly secularized, pro-evolution democracies is experiencing high levels of measurable dysfunction. In some cases the highly religious U.S. is an outlier in terms of societal dysfunction from less theistic but otherwise socially comparable secular developed democracies. In other cases, the correlations are strongly graded, sometimes outstandingly so.
(iii) Gledhill's article uses terminology of *causation.* However, Gregory S. Paul states that he is only investigating correlations, *not* causal relationships. To say correlation = causation is a fallacy cum hoc ergo propter hoc. When dealing solely with statistical analysis, it is impossible to demonstrate that a contributory bond exists between two (or more) variables exclusively. That’s why professional statisticians don’t make those types of claims.
No matter how many results are ‘correlated’, data’s rendered invalid?
I usually don’t go to statistics: usually, you can use stats to prove anything (just like the bibble). But the facts keep piling up, piling up, piling up.
It’s called logical (or objective epistemic) probability,
(iv) There also seems to be a large sum of missing data in his analysis. There are Eighteen countries included for data correlation. However, Italy, Greece, Finland, Luxembourg, and Belgium; are omitted without a lucid explanation. Paul briefly states the especially low rates [of homicide] in the more Catholic European states are statistical noise due to yearly fluctuations incidental to this sample; however, no statistical evidence corroborating this assertion is provided. With the rapid growth in India, they would seem to fit in his criterion of developing democracies. Why was it excluded? An explanation is never provided. It is also worthy to note that Czech Republic, Poland, Russia, and the rest of the new eastern European democracies were excluded. Why? No reason given.
Let’s see: couldn’t tell you why 5 nations were excluded. Maybe he ran out of funding? India? Primarily Hindi, would be my guess. Xtians tend to lay the ‘we’re more moral’ line on the world than anyone else, it seems. I’m guessing here, but chances are fairly strong that it was easier to cull the stats from older European states as opposed to the newer Eastern demos. Russia’s huger. Also primarily atheist, I’d say.
(v) Based on the aforementioned omissions, Paul’s study seems to be suspiciously arbitrary and bias given hat those exclusions may have had significant impacts on the findings. He even admits to not having done a linear regression analysis (which would tell how closely something is correlated). Paul says that it’s due to “high variability of degree of correlation”; what does that tell you? It’a interesting that Paul is also identified as a speaker recommended by the Council for Secular Humanism, maybe there is an agenda behind the scenes you think?
Did you see the part where he excluded teenage suicide? Apparently not.
I thought you didn’t favor conspiracy theories? That sounds like 1. From the study:
” [7] The media (Stepp) gave favorable coverage to a report that children are hardwired towards, and benefit from, accepting the existence of a divine creator on an epidemiological and neuroscientific basis (Benson et al.). Also covered widely was a Federal report that the economic Journal of Religion & Society 4 7 (2005) growth of nations positively responds to high rates of belief in hell and heaven.3 Faith-based charities and education are promoted by the Bush administration4 and religious allies and lobbies as effective means of addressing various social problems (Aronson; Goodstein). The conservative Family Research Council proclaims, “Believing that God is the author of life, liberty and the family, FRC promotes the Judeo-Christian worldview as the basis for a just, free and stable society.”
Those who disagree are biased. Gee, what a surprise.
I wouldn’t put too much stock in this study. So far, it’s only managed to start a new urban legend in the atheist online community.
And you cap it off w/poisoning the well.
It's by far closer to reality than your epistemology.

nicole said...

Well, I did read the study, a few months ago, and it looked relatively solid to me. The simple reason places like India and Eastern Europe were excluded is that only developed nations were studied. By comparing the US to Western Europe and Japan, they were comparing apples to apples economically-speaking. As for the statistically anomalous low homicide rates that year in certain countries, although Paul doesn't include the details, he does provide references to materials that do.
In any case, no, this doesn't prove that religious people do bad things. But it shows a correlation between negative social indicators and a religious society. Personally, I find this more meaningful -- if the results bear out, religiosity can no longer be considered beneficial or benign, but rather a detriment to society that is better sloughed off.

Krystalline Apostate said...

Hi Nicole, thanx for the input:
In any case, no, this doesn't prove that religious people do bad things.
That's never really been my point, but I think you know that.
But it shows a correlation between negative social indicators and a religious society.
I think it's the inherent 'free pass' built in.
Personally, I find this more meaningful -- if the results bear out, religiosity can no longer be considered beneficial or benign, but rather a detriment to society that is better sloughed off.
All solid points.

My point in this post was more towards the concept that 'atheists have to prove their morality' (prerequisite 500 words min.).
I fail to see why I have to justify anything to folks who don't seem to live up to their own standards.

nicole said...

ra,
Sorry for being somewhat unspecific, I was responding more to bf than to you. I think all the points you made in the post were valid, but wanted to back you up a little bit as someone who was familiar with the study. I do think it's important to be wary of journalists' renderings of scientific results, as they tend to imply causation where the scientific authors are careful to limit themselves to correlation, but you seemed to be well enough aware of that. But to use this to, as you say, poison the well, I found unfair. When I originally read this study I remember thinking it rather damning - there is a lot of data, and the author doesn't just use religious identification to correlate with social indicators, he uses disbelief in evolution as an indicator of real religiosity, which I think is a much better statistic than, say, church attendance or membership.
And again, it all goes against the "free pass" idea you mention, and Sam Harris is fond of mentioning, because I think what it really shows is less that religion is bad, and more that rationality helps society as a whole. And it's definitely rationality that Harris is most interested in, and I tend to agree with him.

Krystalline Apostate said...

nicole:
Sorry for being somewhat unspecific, I was responding more to bf than to you.
I know you were. Sorry for the confusion.
I think all the points you made in the post were valid, but wanted to back you up a little bit as someone who was familiar with the study.
I appreciate that. I also tossed in the wallet study for good measure.
I do think it's important to be wary of journalists' renderings of scientific results, as they tend to imply causation where the scientific authors are careful to limit themselves to correlation, but you seemed to be well enough aware of that.
Yeah, I've fought on that battlefield before, so to speak.
But to use this to, as you say, poison the well, I found unfair. When I originally read this study I remember thinking it rather damning - there is a lot of data, and the author doesn't just use religious identification to correlate with social indicators, he uses disbelief in evolution as an indicator of real religiosity, which I think is a much better statistic than, say, church attendance or membership.
Good point.
And again, it all goes against the "free pass" idea you mention, and Sam Harris is fond of mentioning,
He does? Embarassingly, I admit, not all that familiar w/his work.
because I think what it really shows is less that religion is bad, and more that rationality helps society as a whole. And it's definitely rationality that Harris is most interested in, and I tend to agree with him.
Religious folks aren't rotten, as a rule. Some of 'em are good people.
But a few wack-doos get in power, & the trouble soon begins.

say no to christ said...

I completely get what you two, Harris and others are saying, but I still think that the bible is the causation of all of society's problems and it just needs to be said. But, I do tend to lean towards the radical side.

Krystalline Apostate said...

SNTC:
I completely get what you two, Harris and others are saying, but I still think that the bible is the causation of all of society's problems and it just needs to be said.
That's hard to argue w/.
But, I do tend to lean towards the radical side.
Just don't fall over, darlin'. ;)

say no to christ said...

This is another interesting study that came to the conclusion that raising your children by the bible can be harmful to them and even deadly.

http://everything2.com/index.pl?node_id=1530311

karen said...

OY. More morals and the atheist discussion. And BF is here. I think I'll watch and learn. So far, so good. I like this Nicole; she's good! But my brain is still mushy from experiencing my kid's college orientation. Carry on, my friends.