Monday, March 26, 2007

World Better Without Religion (?!)

Sirkowski at Liberal Avenger posts one helluva logical fallacy about the effects of religion on society.

It’s been said before, but it bares repeating. For the good some people claim religion provides us, the cost to society down the lines is just not worth it. Studies prove that the more religious a country is, the lower its standard of living is. But we didn’t really need a study to see that. Just name me one highly religious country with a high standard of living. And if you think the USA is the exception, it’s not. When compared to western industrialized countries, the USA ranks poorly. And remember that it’s the blue states who carry on its shoulders the economical bottom of the barrel that are the red states (in before wingnut bitch).

The post leaves no link for the statement that the U.S. doesn't have a high standard of living, nor does he bother explaining what a "high standard of living" means, even when asked repeatedly in the comments.

He quotes from this story at the Jerusalem Post, but even that article doesn't really back up his claims.
(Freelance paleontologist, author and illustrator Gregory) Paul examined the data from 18 developed countries, and found just the opposite: "In general, higher rates of belief in and worship of a creator correlate with higher rates of homicide, juvenile and early adult mortality, (venereal disease), teen pregnancy, and abortion," while "none of the strongly secularized, pro-evolution democracies is experiencing high levels of measurable dysfunction."

I've debated this topic with lefties before, dissecting the argument that somehow, all these social ills are because of religion, rather than because of other factors. For example, homogeneous societies have lower rates of crime, etc., not because of religion (or a lack thereof), but because the society itself doesn't have to deal with lots of different and competing groups. In fact, most of the factors listed are attributable to a variety of other sources such as poverty, lack of social services, etc., and frequently religious people support intervention in these areas.

But most telling is this portion of the article that Sirkowski does not quote:
Now, to be fair, only one of the 18 countries examined (Japan) was not Christian or "post-Christian," so maybe this just shows that high levels of Christian belief correlate with a variety of social ills. There's really no way of testing that anyway, since apart from the countries of East Asia there really are no non-Christian countries where the level of religious belief has yet fallen below 60 or 70 percent.

There's not even any way of knowing if other religions will eventually experience the same decline in belief as the people who believed in them get richer, more urban and better educated. Even in what used to be Christendom, the United States didn't follow that path, after all. But the question is not whether religion will continue to flourish. It is whether that makes people behave better, and the data say no.

In other words, the study is a sham. With only one non-Christian country studied, it's difficult to believe that the author would have even bothered postulating these theories in the first place. How do you prove that non-Christian states are better off if you don't have any non-Christian states in your study?

The Jerusalem Post column goes on to state that secular governments (a la Europe) do a better job of taking care of people than do religious ones. But here again, the author gets the information wrong. The U.S. is a secular state, as well. Because people are religious has nothing to do with supporting government programs. People support (or don't support) governmental interference based on information and experience, not necessarily their religion. And the throwaway explanation of the Jerusalem Post author--that Christians don't support government programs because they think God will provide--is both trite and demeaning. Given that Americans give far more for causes than citizens of other countries (look at aid given for tsunami relief, for instance), one can draw the conclusion that religious countries are more giving and compassionate.

Saying that the world would be better off without religion is a silly argument, regardless of what information Sirkowski presents. It's not like religion will go away because someone puts together a rather bogus study to support the banishment of it. This just seems to be another atheist's attempt to bash religious people because he has a problem with them.