An occasional sputtering of literary output, rants and opinion.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

The Science Of Religiousness

I read this post in the Australian about the correlation between religiosity and crime, STD's and other indicators of societal dysfunction; and was both intrigued and appalled. Intrigued because it matched a suspicion I have long held about religion being an indicator of social illhealth, appalled because, at least as presented in the article the drawing of conclusions was shoddy science. Mostly because it implies causation from correlation. The research article on which the article in the Australian was based was published in the Journal of Religion and Society by Gregory Paul , the money quote in the Australian's version is:

"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."

Which tells you that indeed there is a correlation, and that of developing democracies, those with high rates of religiosity experience a correspondingly high rate of social dysfunctions (as measured by murders per capita, prevalence of gonorrhea, etc.).

In the JRS study there is also this decidely less sexy passage:

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.

Which in my mind at least puts Dr. Paul in the position of having his work sensationalised by the Australian. As a first pass at mining the available data about the effect of religion on society the JRS article is intriguing in that it does show the existence of a correlation between disparate events, a correlation that many would discount in advance in fact. I suspect that religiosity is neither a cause nor the effect of the many social dysfunctions it appears in tandem with. My hypothesis is that religion and the other social dysfunctions of which it is a marker, are caused by perceived financial and social insecurity.

To scientifically test this hypothesis it is merely necessary to construct multiple isolated societies and to vary the parameters of wealth and individual security so as to test all the permutations, the hypothesis is falsified if the incidence of religion in the model does not vary with the individual security parameter.(note this last sentence was a joke).


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