Monday, January 16, 2006

The "Religion Leads to Societal Ills" Meme, revisited

For an interesting look at how statistics can be used to provide illusory support to a popular misconception, read this article, Cross-National Correlations of Quantifiable Societal Health with Popular Religiosity and Secularism in the Prosperous Democracies, and then read the following:

From our bulging "How not to do statistics" file
by Scott Gilbreath of the Magic Statistics Blog.

Dogma Bites Man by George H. Gallup, Jr.

I am not a statistician, so I leave it to others to interpret the original article as well as the rebuttals.

I am particularly impressed with the results of polling done in 2002, which suggested that the 10% of respondents who scored highest on "Love of God" were significantly more likely to be involved in service to the poor and suffering, and believed that all people are loved by God and therefore we should also love them (Dogma Bites Man).

(Thanks to Beau Weston of The Gruntled Center for alerting me to these articles.)


Michael W. Kruse said...

Thanks for this post Denis. This story is a prime example of statistics abuse. Two variables that vary together in a pattern tells you nothing other than that they correlate. It does not tell you which variable is influencing the other. Indeed, there may be a third variable that causes both of them to change. There may be some combination of the two primary variables examined combined with mulitiple unmeasured variables.

I could make the case that wealth tends to alienate us from God. We become overly self-reliant and deny our need for God. The less wealthy are not blinded by this illusion. Thus, weatlh caused secularism and not the other way around. I am not saying this is the answer. I am just saying that you can come up with any number of plausable and contradictory scenarios that fit the data. The claims being made on the basis of this one study are just silly.

Denis Hancock said...

Thanks for your input.

It seems intuitive to me that people who are committed to Jesus are going to follow His commandmants, among which are feeding the hungry, welcoming the stranger, housing the homeless, clothing the naked, etcetera.

But then you and I are reading from the same sheet of music...

It is good to see competent statisticians evaluate such claims.

As for making "the case that wealth tends to alienate us from God", it seems the God has already made the case. It also seems that our sinful nature alienates us from God, but if we can choose to follow God instead of our own selfish agendas, then we can choose to not let wealth control us. Both are difficult to do on our own, but with God's help we can make it.