Does Christian faith make people more moral?

It seems that statistical findings (and the way they are interpreted and reported) have occupied my attention lately.

A little while ago I looked at some unpopular stats about homosexuality and about Muslim attitudes to suicide bombing, both facts that are somewhat unpopular in a liberal climate.

Then I looked at stats on religious people and atheists when it comes to knowledge of religion (and Christianity in particular). There I noted that when they want to limit their group to exclude under-performers, some atheists construed atheism in a very narrow way when it results in them getting better scores (as a group) in tests on religion, but when it comes to comparisons between their knowledge of Christianity with the knowledge that Christians have, while maintaining their own narrow categorisation, they combine high scoring Christian groups with low scoring Christian groups, ensuring that atheists (narrowly defined) score better.

This time I’m prompted by a couple of comments that were made during my discussion with Arif Ahmed on the Unbelievable radio show with Justin Brierly (the recording of this show should be available via the unbelievable podcast any day now I think). We were discussing whether or not there can be moral facts in the absence of God. As a kind of aside, our host Justin asked us what we thought the world would be like if everyone was an atheist – or a Christian, for that matter. My response was that we can’t really gaze into a crystal ball on this one. I did add that anecdotally I knew of plenty of people who were no longer Christians at least partly because they wanted to indulge in a lifestyle that fell outside the moral constraints of Christian ethics. (Incidentally Jim Spiegel’s book, which I reviewed, covers this in a little more depth).

Arif’s reply was that there’s no evidence that Christian belief makes people more moral, and there’s good evidence of an “inverse relationship” between religious belief socially dysfunctional behaviour (from memory, the example he used was crime). He didn’t name the study, but it’s one that is widely cited, although usually very briefly, for the sake of mentioning one or two details. It’s covered in a paper by Gregory Paul in the Journal of Religion and Society, Volume 7 (2005). In brief – and I don’t dispute the findings of the study – in parts of the world where there is a high degree of religiosity (actually for accuracy’s sake we should say “a high degree of religiosity existing alongside a minority of unbelief”) there also exist a higher level of what many or most of us think of as social ills: “homicide, juvenile and early adult mortality, STD infection rates, teen pregnancy, and abortion.” Again in the interests of accuracy, it should be noted that the kind of religious belief in question was stipulated to be anti-evolutionary belief in a creator. In looking at the countries (and states) referred to, the reader will correctly deduce that the belief is generally some form of young earth creationism.

But does this really mean that there’s “no evidence” (Arif’s phrase) that Christian belief has a positive moral affect on those who hold it? No, it doesn’t. This claim goes well beyond the evidence. In fact we know of precisely such evidence.

“The Social Capital Community Benchmark Survey (SCCBS) was undertaken in 2000 by researchers at universities throughout the United States and the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research.” You can read about the findings of that survey HERE.

The differences in charity between secular and religious people are dramatic. Religious people are 25 percentage points more likely than secularists to donate money (91 percent to 66 percent) and 23 points more likely to volunteer time (67 percent to 44 percent). And, consistent with the findings of other writers, these data show that practicing a religion is more important than the actual religion itself in predicting charitable behavior. For example, among those who attend worship services regularly, 92 percent of Protestants give charitably, compared with 91 percent of Catholics, 91 percent of Jews, and 89 percent from other religions.
Socioeconomically, the religious and secular groups are similar in some ways and different in others. For example, there is little difference between the groups in income (both have average household incomes around $49,000) or education level (20 percent of each group holds a college degree). On the other hand, the secular group is disproportionately male (49 percent to 32 percent), unmarried (58 percent to 40 percent), and young (42 to 49 years old, on average). In addition, the sccbs data show that religion and secularism break down on ideological lines: Religious people are 38 percentage points more likely to say they are conservative than to say they are liberal (57 percent to 19 percent). In contrast, secular people are 13 points more likely to say they are liberal than to say they are conservative (42 percent to 29 percent).
It is possible, of course, that the charity differences between secular and religious people are due to these nonreligious socioeconomic differences. To investigate this possibility, I used a statistical procedure called probit regression to examine the role of religious practice in isolation from all other relevant demographic characteristics: political beliefs, income (and hence, indirectly, the tax incentives for giving), education level, gender, age, race, marital status, and area of residence. The data show that if two people — one religious and the other secular — are identical in every other way, the secular person is 23 percentage points less likely to give than the religious person and 26 points less likely to volunteer.
Note that neither political ideology nor income is responsible for much of the charitable differences between secular and religious people. For example, religious liberals are 19 points more likely than secular liberals to give to charity, while religious conservatives are 28 points more likely than secular conservatives to do so. In other words, religious conservatives (who give and volunteer at rates of 91 percent and 67 percent) appear to differ from secular liberals (who give and volunteer at rates of 72 percent and 52 percent) more due to religion than to politics.

The SCCBS survey looked at the behaviour of people who are themselves religious, and who practice their religion in terms of public worship on a regular basis. The effect of this focus is that the charitable giving and volunteering is actually carried out by the same people whose behaviour is in question.

The study referenced in the Journal of Religion and Society, by contrast, does not study the behaviour of individuals who hold religious beliefs (or, to be fair, of those who lack religious beliefs). Instead, it studies the presence of social phenomena in areas where that religious belief is present. This leaves open a range of possibilities. It might be, for example, that there are factors that encourage or at least do not dissuade both religious belief and the social ills in question. It could also be the case that the presence of social ills has an effect on the level of religiosity.

In my discussion with Arif, I actually raised an issue along these lines. I pointed out that if you were to only compare the level of religiosity in an area with the level of, say, crime, then you could be missing out all sorts of factors that could be doing the causal work. For example, what if there was a high level of poverty that was also a factor? I didn’t have time to correct him, but Arif’s response miscontrued this point. His reply was that religiosity also correlated to poverty. He had misunderstood me as saying that perhaps religion had a positive impact on poverty levels, which wasn’t my point.

The point is just this: There’s data that shows that religious people (in the United States, at least) are personally responsible for more charitable giving (both to Christian charities and secular charities), showing a positive correlation between religious belief and moral behaviour. To his credit, when I noted this on the radio show Arif accepted that there is, after all, evidence of a positive correlative relationship between Christian faith and morality.

What’s more, the data connecting religious faith and social ills is not as straight forward as some might think. Granted, it’s (in my view anyway) important and surprising. But it is different in kind to the SCCB data in that it doesn’t connect specific behaviour to individuals who are themselves committed to a religious outlook. What is the explanation for the data Greg Paul discusses? I don’t know. Nor, for that matter, did he seek to offer an explanation (I take this to count in his favour in terms of fairness).

Incidentally, Evangelical Protestant couples (again, in America) have been shown to experience greater sexual satisfaction than both other Christians and the unchurched. Just saying.

Glenn Peoples

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48 thoughts on “Does Christian faith make people more moral?

  1. I’m not quite sure of the purpose of these statistical discussions. Ultimately, they have no bearing on the truth or falsity of Christian dogma. All it proves is that some people are capable of living up to their principles, and others are not. It doesn’t take a theologian to see that nowhere in Christianity does it affirm murder.

    Nonetheless, and as hypocritical as this may sound, I find Ahmed’s implication that there is a correlation between Christian belief and poverty to be rather incredible if not totally contrary to the record of history. Protestant nations (when they were Protestant) have overseen some of the greatest booms in general wealth that the world has ever seen. Great Britain (when it was Protestant) oversaw an Empire on which the Sun never set (btw i’m a Republican, not a monarchist). Similarly, nations like Holland, under the influence of Calvinism, oversaw a vast commercial empire. Moreover, there is a certain causative effect between the two. Protestantism has always promoted a strong work ethic and has emphatically supported individual as well as corporate responsibility. I should find it remarkable for someone to deny the causal link there!

  2. Andrew, nobody is implying that there’s an inference from this data to the truth or falsehood of Christianity. Not everyone finds this stuff about stats interesting I’m sure. However, I do and it’s my blog so there.

    Re: The historical influence of Christianity, yes there’s a lot of “dark age”* superstition floating around out there about what actually took place under Christianity’s influence in the history of the Western world.

    *I know, that term is shunned because of its generally untrue assumptions, I’m being ironic.

  3. ok cool 🙂 since no-one is making that inference, then i’m happy to partake in the discussion 🙂

    I’d just say, defer to the second part of my first comment where I (uncharacteristically) make a historical argument

  4. Actual sociologists have not received Paul’s work well, for a number of reasons (various articles response can easily be found). He continues to revise the work in light of various criticisms, but most still see it primarily as atheist polemics (which is where you will find it referenced for the most part). The original response, made in the same journal, is worth reading:

    http://moses.creighton.edu/JRS/2006/2006-1.html

  5. “but most still see it primarily as atheist polemics (which is where you will find it referenced for the most part).”

    Yes that’s what I’ve noticed. The only sources that I have personally seen citing this work are those who are effectively the atheist equivalent of evangelists. Now of course evangelists may cite reputable work, but when it’s pretty much only the evangelists who will touch something, alarm bells start going off.

  6. Glenn wrote: “nobody is implying that there’s an inference from this data to the truth or falsehood of Christianity”. Forgive me folks, but isn’t the truth of Christianity a fundamental underpinning to the discussion on this blog? The more I read this blog (and Matt and Madeleine’s blog), the more I am getting convinced that you are not really interested in discussing whether Chistianity has a secure footing in fact. I fact, if I were a betting man (and I am), I am getting the sense that you guys don’t believe this bunk but geniunely believe that it has bettered the world.

    I know that you accept the resurrection of Jesus as having happened. However, remarkably little time is spent here (or at MandM) dealing with passages such as this one, Matthew 27: 50-54 (KJV – not sure which version you guys prefer):

    Jesus, when he had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost.

    And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent;

    And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose,

    And came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many.

    Now when the centurion, and they that were with him, watching Jesus, saw the earthquake, and those things that were done, they feared greatly, saying, Truly this was the Son of God.

    Glenn, do you believe that this event actually occurred?

    From the website Bible Verses Seldom Read on Sunday:

    The stories regarding the death and resurrection of Jesus have so many contradictions that many believers have become doubters simply by comparing the stories. Only Matthew 27 has the story of zombies roaming the streets of Jerusalem. There are several details omitted. Did the zombies look like rotten corpses, or were they provided with fresh bodies? Where did they go after rising from their tombs and appearing to many people? Did they die a second time, or did they walk back into their graves? Who were these zombies? The Age of Reason provides many other comments on this passage as well as on the rest of the bible. I encourage all Christians to read this book.

    More importantly, where is the evidence that this fantastic event occurred? There are no historical accounts of any event in the life of Jesus written within decades of his life. You would think that zombies walking around would generate at least one historical written account of this event. There are none.

  7. The idea of doing regression analysis on ‘morality’ using charitable giving as a variable is dubious even in itself. There are plenty of very suspect moral characters who have substantially given to charity I would suggest. Surely there is more to morality than just giving to charity? But let’s assume that we accept this fairly dodgy use of data.

    The author (rightly) criticises atheists (or sloppy journalists) in another blog post for redrawing the boundary about what defines an atheist as it suits them. But is he (or she?) not guilty of the same criticism when defining whether someone is religious? Are there not many people who would consider themselves religious but do not regularly attend church/mosque/whatever?

    The link that I followed to the study however is even more shocking in its definition of secular. Apologies if I’ve somehow misunderstood here- but this is my understanding:

    Apparently secular simply means people who don’t publicly worship or do so only a few times a year or who explicitly say they have no religion.

    That’s a pretty wide grouping in my mind- encompassing atheists, agnostics, people who only go to Church at Christmas/religious holidays, people who pray regularly at home etc…

    Now maybe you think that is an appropriate determinant of whether someone is religious or not. I have to say I find it very unconvincing- I know that a lot of Christians for instance would be offended at the idea that they ‘had’ to go to Church to be considered Christian. Equally I know a lot of atheists that would be very offended to be grouped together with people that pray however infrequently to God.

    I would also suggest that public worship does not necessarily demonstrate ‘faith’ (whatever that may be). There are certainly people who pray (and even preach!) very publicly- but their private actions betray (or would betray if they were found out) themselves to lack faith.

    Even if you discount all of the above (and the rather obvious point that there is no way of being certain that people are being truthful in a telephone interview)- all you have demonstrated is a correlation between those who publicly worship and those who give to charity. That hardly demonstrates causation- which is what is implied in your article title.

  8. TAM:

    … the more I am getting convinced that you are not really interested in discussing whether Chistianity has a secure footing in fact. I fact, if I were a betting man (and I am), I am getting the sense that you guys don’t believe this bunk but geniunely believe that it has bettered the world.

    Regardless of whether this is true, the same thing applies to you and atheism. It is unlikely someone is going to start a doctorate and devote their lives to something they DONT believe to be true. That would be insanity.
    We defend our faith BECAUSE we believe it has a secure footing in “fact”, otherwise it would be insanity, as I said. Likewise we expect you to defend your belief because you believe it has a secure footing in “fact”. Hence the discussion.

  9. TAM: “Forgive me folks, but isn’t the truth of Christianity a fundamental underpinning to the discussion on this blog?”

    You’re forgiven, but that has nothing to do with whether or not studies like this are supposed to prove or disprove Christianity.

    Ray: “There are plenty of very suspect moral characters who have substantially given to charity”

    Perhaps, but as a pattern you’d expect more benevolent people to give to charity than selfish people. What’s more, this sword cuts both ways as well. There are plenty of normally good people who have opccasionally participated in a “social ill” as well. What studies like this are designed to look at, however, are patterns.

  10. Geoff, as you likely know, there are some very bright philosophers of religion who do not swallow the kool-aid they study (for example, see the writings of Stephen Maitzen, Graham Oppy, Paul Draper, Matt McCormick and William Rowe). My sense is that it is exceedingly difficult to get a job in this area if you are willin to admit that the emporer has no clothes.

    Geoff, I am interested in yur view of the “zombies overtake Jerusalem” comment from Matthew cited above.

  11. Let ideologues lose on statistics and they are bound to *edited by moderator* it up. They are bound to have their biases confirmed. Of course the fault is ideology not statistics. Stats don’t lie but very often their interpreters do.

    Thankfully, Glenn, you don’t dispute Paul’s findings – so you accept the factual reality as presented in the data.

    But:

    1: You are wrong to say the study was of the world, or “parts of the world where there is a high degree of religiosity.” It was actually a study of data from “developed democracies” (18 or 19 countries from memory. (And in most of these religiosity is not very high compared with undeveloped countries.).

    2: I think you have got it completely wrong to claim:

    “the kind of religious belief in question was stipulated to be anti-evolutionary belief in a creator. In looking at the countries (and states) referred to, the reader will correctly deduce that the belief is generally some form of young earth creationism.”

    That is just not true.

    Paul lists as his parameters (derived from a questionare) indicating religiosity of a country;

    * Absolutely believe in god
    * Attend religious services at least several times a month
    * Take bible literally
    * Pray at least several times a week
    * Agnostics and atheists (obvious a negative parameter).

    The evolution parameter was included in the list of measures of society’s dysfunction in a country. These parameters were:

    * Accept evolution (obviously a negative indicator of dysfunction).
    * Homocide rates
    * 15-25 yr old suicides
    * Under 5 mortality rates
    * Life expectancy (again negative)
    * Gonorrhea infection rates – all and 15-19 yrs
    * Syphilis as above
    * 15-19 yr old abortions
    * 15-17 yr pregnancies and births

    True he does then test the acceptance of evolution as an indicator of other measures of dysfunction. No one should be in the least surprised that the acceptance of religion is strongly negatively correlated with religiosity in a population. Local surveys certainly suggest that about 40% of Christians do not accept evolutionary science and really I can’t see such ideas holding any significant sway in non-religious sections of a population.

    Paul was really testing the claim (commonly made) that without religion society is more likely to be dysfunctional. Obviously the data doesn’t support that claim.

    It is true that in this paper he did not seek an explanation. In more recent work, however, he has analysed the data further and is advancing the hypothesis that the degree of social and economic insecurity in a country is a factor in both religiosity and social dysfunction. Several other workers have advanced the same hypothesis and it certainly helps to explain the outlier status of the USA.

  12. Kyle – you are at it again. What is it with the theological necessity to cast unwarranted aspersions on scientific work that they find uncomfortable.

    You will continually repeat this critical paper because it fits in with your own biases against the work (yet you yourself can’t find faults with the work – merely quote this reference).

    Now here is the thing, Kyle. Criticism in science is normal, in fact essential. Just to get published in a reputable journal any scientist expects to get plenty of criticism, warranted and unwarranted, and is expected to respond to it.

    You have done nothing to indicate, or even suggest, Paul’s work has been widely rejected by others in the field (sure you will find religiously motivated attacks – we expect that).

    As for “He continues to revise the work in light of various criticisms” . Welcome to the real world – that is the normal scientific process.

    And, as I pointed out in my previous comment, Paul has done deeper statistical analysis of the data and as a result advanced an hypothesis. It is, I believe, one that other researchers support. At least I have yet to see significant criticism of the idea.

    But, in the nature of science, this hypothesis will be critiqued, weaknesses identified, further tested with other data (I think some of this has gone on with internal US populations), modified, possiblky even rejected. But maybe it will get further support and start to be more widely accepted.

  13. Ken, your point 1 strikes me as irrelevant quibbling. Yes, they were very specific parts of the world, within developed democracies. But they were still parts of the world (obviously!). This changes nothing in my comments and is a red herring.

    As for the rest, you must have not read what I said about evolution – or perhaps you skipped over this part of the article in the Journal of Religion and Society. The reference I made to evolution has to do, not with whether or not it is counted as a social ill, but with the way that it is used in Paul’s paper as a measure of religiosity vs secularity.

    See paragraph 14, for example, where the author notes that being a creationist/rejecting evolution are linked – in his analysis – to being religious or secular. Alternatively, see his paragraph 16: “Increasing adolescent abortion rates show positive correlation with increasing belief and worship of a creator, and negative correlation with increasing non-theism and acceptance of evolution;” So he is pointing out how social ills (like abortion) correlate with beliefs (in this case the rejection of evolution). This is clearly what he is doing, as even a casual read shows. Just look at his comment about well-being indicators right in the summary at the start: “while pro-religious and antievolution America performs poorly.” So being anti-evolution is not at all being used here as an example of a social ill. You are fundamentally misreading this.

    So my reference to evolution and creation is an exactly correct way of representing what Gregory Paul was saying. I fail to see why you would think otherwise. But then I remembered your opening sentence: “Let ideologues lose [sic] on statistics and they are bound to **** it up.” It’s possible that you read my blog entry in haste, quickly scanning to find something to disagree with (or after reading my blog entry, quickly scanned Paul’s paper), so you missed why I actually referred to evolution/creation at all.

  14. There are some Gallup Polling Orgnaisation surveys which incorporate all countries – these show a correlation between average income and religiosity (see Treating statistics sensibly). (Incidentally, these also give support to Paul’s hypothesis of the involvement of social and economic lack of security as a factor in the degree of religiosity of a country).

    In that case I think they defined religiosity by using results of a survey of how important people considered their religious belief is in daily life, or something similar.

    In Paul’s case he doesn’t use a single parameter for religiosity. I list the 5 he did use above. Sure he then goes on to show a correlation between these 5 factors (separately) and acceptance of evolution. Subsequently he also includes evolution acceptance, together with other parameters separately, in his presentation of data showing correlations with other measures of social dysfunction. One one could assume that acceptance of evolution is one indicator (negative) of religiosity.

    But the fact remains he he used five parameters. You can make that six by including the evolution response. But that is a tremendously long way from your claim “the kind of religious belief in question was stipulated to be anti-evolutionary belief in a creator. In looking at the countries (and states) referred to, the reader will correctly deduce that the alternative belief is generally some form of young earth creationism.”

    In this study Paul presented the data for each parameter – he made no attempt to define and index of relgiosity. If he had though it would have included:

    * Absolutely believe in god
    * Attend religious services at least several times a month
    * Take bible literally
    * Pray at least several times a week
    * Agnostics and atheists (obvious a negative parameter).

    And then one could add “acceptance of evolutionary science” as a negative parameter. One of six in total.

    But the advantage of presenting the data for each parameter is that these sorts of limited definitions of religiosity can be overcome.

    And your strong implication that Paul was restricting the term to creationism is just wrong. While at the same time, I believe that whatever sensible parameter one chose to define religiosity it would improbably be quite strongly and negatively correlated with acceptance of evolutionary science.

    I don’t know that there is any acceptance of what measurements one should include in a religiosity determination. Obviously Paul just used what was available with the data he had (not his).

    But what would you guys use? and would you include acceptance of evolutionary science, or any attitude to science, in such a measure of religiosity?

  15. TAM,

    Geoff, I am interested in yur view of the “zombies overtake Jerusalem” comment from Matthew cited above.

    “its written in the book of Matthew in the New Testament”.
    Did it really happen? – Does it really matter? Jesus was resurrected, others might well have been, and will certainly one day.

  16. “Did it really happen? – Does it really matter?” From my perspective the answer is no … it’s all hogwash. To someone (like you, I presume) who relies on the gospel of Matthew to support their belief in the physical resurrection of Christ, I would think that the truth or non-truth of the zombies overtaking Jerusalem would be of great interest.

  17. TAM: How would you respond to the claim that you believe in martian spaceships? You know, those things with four wheels and a steering wheel. People use them to drive on the road.

    How silly of you – believing in martian spaceships! What a looney! What’s your response?

    (Big hint: This is leading up to questions about the use of the word “zombie” as a useless rhetorical device that does not apply.)

    On more important and relevant matters: Do you actually have a single word to say that is related to the topic of this blog, or is this the same old trolling that has become synonymous with your nickname?

  18. Glenn, you are correct that my use of the word zombie is a useless rhetorical device. I should have said “corpses which emerged from the ground and walked around Jerusalem, presenting themselves to many witnesses”. That would have been quite a memorable scene, wouldn’t you say?

    I believe in cars, regardless of what you choose to call them. Do you believe that corpses walked around Jerusalem around 30 AD, regardless of what we choose to call them?

    As far as the topic of your blog post is concerned, I’m really not sure what to make of the suggestion that “Christian belief makes people more moral”. We all know that people who profess to be religious can commit dastardly deeds or lead morally upstanding lives (however we choose to define that term). The same goes for non-theistic folk. Quite frankly, I would have intuitively figured that Christians should be more charitable because they have a dogma that promotes charity whereas atheists share no such dogma. I’m not sure if the data bears that out or not. Even if it does, that doesn’t say anything about whether the dogma has any basis in fact. I could start a Church tomorrow based on myths of my choosing and decide to incorporate The Golden Rule among the tenets. The fact that my followers might end up to be more charitable (on average) than those who don’t follow my faith would not be surprising.

    If by the reference to trolling you are referring to my uncontrollable tendency to force Christians to confront the lunacy of what they are supposed to believe, I am guilty as charged.

  19. “Perhaps, but as a pattern you’d expect more benevolent people to give to charity than selfish people. What’s more, this sword cuts both ways as well. There are plenty of normally good people who have occasionally participated in a “social ill” as well. What studies like this are designed to look at, however, are patterns.”

    I certainly would expect benevolent people to give more to charity, seeing that the word benevolent can literally mean inclined to give to charity. Nevertheless you cannot reasonably claim that people that giving to charity is a fair operationalisation of morality.

    Christians have a number of definitions of what makes a moral person. I’m no expert on Christianity but I know of no definition that states that financial giving alone is sufficient to be a good person. In Islam giving to charity is certainly a part of it- but there are other pillars too! Most people wouldn’t think much of paedophile no matter how much he/she gave to the RSPCA. Once you start using the ludicrously sloppy logic that x gives more to charity, therefore x must be more moral: your whole argument is undermined.

    Tellingly however you didn’t respond to any of my other points about your flawed methodology, particularly your definitions of religious and secular.

  20. TAM – no, it’s still a useless rhetorical device because you’re saying “corpses.” Try again.

    “Zombies” was just a silly trick word to make things sound funny. But zombies aren’t people who have been brought back to life (according tot he mythology). They’re just reanimated corpses.

  21. Ray, you might personally feel that there’s no moral virtue in giving to charity, and that it’s not a moral indicator at all. I did respond to this point, and tellingly you didn’t comment on the way that I responded (see how the word “tellingly” is just a flourish without substance?).

    I also find it gratuitously unfair that you’re imputing the methodology of the study to me! But while I’m at it Ray – how did you conclude a) that religious attendance is not an important marker of those who practice a religion, and b) that religious attendance is the only marker that Paul’s paper used?

    I see no reason to believe a), and b) is demonstrably false, since Paul used a number of criteria, and not just attendance. So what was your point, exactly? While I think certain applications of the data are flawed, this is not one of those flaws, and I don’t think your particular attack on Paul’s paper was justified.

  22. “Did it really happen? – Does it really matter?” From my perspective the answer is no … it’s all hogwash. To someone (like you, I presume) who relies on the gospel of Matthew to support their belief in the physical resurrection of Christ, I would think that the truth or non-truth of the zombies overtaking Jerusalem would be of great interest.

    I am interested in resurrection, of course, but as Glenn pointed out, there were no zombies, so I dont really have a problem. And since for me, resurrecting the dead is an expectation, and something I believe in, I dont really have any problem with it.
    You might think resurrection of the dead is wacky, but then I believe not believing in God is wacky..

  23. Thanks Tom, looks like some interesting reading.

    Your post took a while to appear because it contains a few links so it went into moderation. I just got in. 🙂

  24. Tom shows his strong confirmation bias. Look at the origins of these links. Hardly an objective or qualified set of critics.

    All of them cleary defensive about their religious illusions and determined to undermine any evidence contradicting them.

    Reminds me of the climate change denial echo chamber – so we have an apolgetics echo chamber. I guess that can go with (and to some extent probably accommodates) the creationist echo chamber.

  25. Ken – I haven’t read those links, but as always, you bring up the religion of the critics and then say no more. Nothing new here I see.

    Did you realise that this is the ad hominem fallacy? (And would it stop you if you realised this?)

    But of course, you’re unreliable. After all, you’re a heathen.

  26. I am familiar with a couple of the articles and had a quick loo at one of the Telic ones. You mentioned the ad hominem fallacy. Well you will find quite a lot of that in them. The are playing the man rather man the ball. For obvious reasons.

  27. Ken, the following is an example of an ad hominem:

    Those people are unreliable, because look, they hold a religious belief and they want to defend it.

    You are fond of this tactic Ken. For obvious reasons.

    How fair and open minded do these comments sound when I make them to you Ken? Do not expect to make stupid comments like that and then have people hear you as a reasonable person.

  28. The fact remains they are playing the man rather than ball. And their reason is that their religious defensiveness has read a conclusion into the objective data that Paul actually did not make. So they are actually clutching at straws (irrelevant attempts to discredit the data) to knock down a straw man (religion is a cause if social dysfunction – which no one claimed) and then attacking, and demonizing, the researcher for their own misunderstanding.

  29. “The fact remains they are playing the man rather than ball”

    That’s not what I read. I just checked one of them, and they claimed that the paper in reply in the same journal shows major flaws in Paul’s paper.

    Right or wrong, that’s not playing the man, Ken. In fact, noting that the people are religious and therefore assuming that their arguments must be weak? That’s playing the man, not the ball.

    You are demonstrably using double standards.

  30. Ken, I do not claim to have done the research.

    All I am pointing out to you is that I checked one of those papers that you dismissed with an ad-hom attack. I noticed that their response to Paul’s paper was to cite and agree with the paper in the same journal as Paul’s paper – a paper that responded critically to Paul.

    Now, you might not think this is a good argument. That’s not the point. You accused all those papers of “playing the man.” This is false.

  31. I don’t see where I suggested giving to charity wasn’t concerned with morality. I just said that most people think there is more to morality than simply giving to charity. And you’re wrong to assume that simply because someone gives to charity means they are more likely to be moral in other areas. I think you have to demonstrate that if you want to be bold with your conclusions- and you haven’t done that.
    I don’t really see why my personal beliefs are that relevant though anyway- this discussion isn’t about what I believe- it’s about me saying that your argument doesn’t hold up.

    I’m a bit confused about the rest of your post. I think we’re talking about different studies? I was talking about the one I clicked on for your link- at http://www.hoover.org/publications/policy-review/article/6577

    I think b) because quoting from your link:

    “From these data, I have constructed two measures of religious participation. First, the group I refer to as “religious” are the respondents that report attending religious services every week or more often….. Second, the group I call “secular” report attending religious services less than a few times per year or explicitly say they have no religion.”

    I think a) because I know lots of religious people who repeatedly tell me that religion isn’t about just going to church or mosque.
    As an example- I would say that to be a Christian you HAVE to absolutely believe in God. Then I look at the Paul study Figure 1.
    And I see that Ireland has over 70% regularly going to Church. But only about 50% who absolutely believe in God. By contrast the US has 65% or so who absolutely believe in God- but only 40% who regularly go to Church.
    For me- believing in God is a necessary condition to be a Christian.

    Which leaves us with the fact that lots of people in Ireland go to church but are not Christian. And lots of people in the States believe in God but don’t regularly go to Church.
    (I’m saying Christian because I’m assuming the minorities of other religions in Ireland and the States wouldn’t differ enough to influence the trend.)

    So- these people who don’t believe in God would count as religious.
    And these people who do, but don’t go to Church would count as non-religious.

    I don’t mean to blame you for either of the original studies. I’m just blaming you for the interpretation you are putting on their results.

    Even the Brooks study doesn’t go as far as you suggest and admits other alternatives:
    “On the other hand, the connection between religiosity and generosity might be more earth-bound: It might be that religion simply has a strong pedagogical (endogenous) influence over giving and volunteering. Houses of worship might teach their congregants the religious duty to give, and about both the physical and spiritual needs of the poor.”

  32. Ray – it’s not just that there is some connection between giving to charity and morality. It’s that giving to charity is itself morally good, and can also plausibly be thought of as a fallible moral indicator.

    Sure, there will be individuals who have some moral indicators – but those indicators turn out to be misleading overall. But exceptions really aren’t all that interesting or important.

    As for the rest – it would perhaps have been better if you had indicated whch study you were talking about previously. Nonetheless, your own comments above indicate that your objection isn’t particular important. For example:

    I know lots of religious people who repeatedly tell me that religion isn’t about just going to church or mosque.

    This is unimportant because all religious people believe that religion isn’t just about going to church or mosque. That is irrelevant. The question is whether or not such attendance is an indicator of religious faith, and whether or not religious faith makes such attendance highly probable. Since an affirmative answer is appropriate in each case, it’s not clear what the objection really amounts to – if anything.

    So if you’re actually saying that there’s no indicative value at all (especially over a large sample size) in religious participation as to whether or not a person is actually religious, then you’d need to conduct a study to demonstrate the truth of this prima facie dubious claim. There is currently nothing to “blame” me for at all.

  33. Charity can certainly be looked at as one moral indicator. But because there are so many other moral indicators, and they collectively hold greater moral importance you cannot make a reasonable claim that people who publicly worship are more moral than people who do not with the evidence you’ve cited (even if there weren’t problems with the evidence itself).
    Do you have any evidence that husbands who give money to charity are any less likely to beat their wives or disrespect their parents or lie or steal? I don’t see why you can assume that a person who is moral in one area of their life is more likely to be moral in other areas.

    The Paul study says that 65% of Americans believe in God. 40% attend religious services at least several times a month. Even if we assume that everyone who goes to a religious service regularly believes in God (and that’s hugely unlikely), that means 25% of Americans believe in God but do not regularly attend religious services.
    So 60% of the population doesn’t regularly attend church services, and at least 25% of the population believes in God but doesn’t attend church services; that means that a minimum of 41.6% of people who don’t regularly attend church services believe in God. 100*(25/60).

    The higher the sample size, the closer to the 41.6% you get (statistically speaking).

    That means that of people who don’t regularly attend church, (at least) nearly half of them believe in God. So it is a very poor prediction of whether someone believes in God or not.

    But even if you decide to ignore all of the above- all you have demonstrated is correlation, not causation. I didn’t think much of Arthur Brooks study- but at the end I have to give him credit for acknowledging that he hadn’t decisively determined causation. He explicitly states- in the quote I provided earlier- that it might simply be that places of worship provide a strong pedagogic influence over giving or volunteering.

  34. “you cannot make a reasonable claim that people who publicly worship are more moral than people who do not with the evidence you’ve cited”

    Wait, you’re messing things up here. People who publicly worship are more RELIGIOUS on the whole than those who don’t. Do you grant this now or not?

    And we also know (if the data is not somehow misleading) that they are, on the whole, more likely (in terms of statistical likelihood) to be the kind of people who give to charity.

    So the question then is – on the whole and in terms of patterns, what kind of person is more likely to give to charity? A kind person where kindness is construed in moral terms, or an unkind person?

    I think it’s strange and in need of a careful fact-based defense to say that a person who is moral in terms of kindness is just as likely to be immoral in all other respects than somebody else. As I’ve clearly acknowledged, you will be able to find odd patchworks of people who are gentle and giving in some circumstances but vicious and evil in others, but it is more plausible to think that in general the kind of charatcer that is kind and giving will be less likely to be vicious and immoral overall.

    “But even if you decide to ignore all of the above- all you have demonstrated is correlation, not causation”

    Yes, that is true. And over and above all of this is the main point that I noted in the original blog: The Hoover study actually connected the religious faith of the individual person tot he charitable giving of that same person. The Paul study lacks this connection and does not even show a correlation between behaviour and faith.

  35. I don’t have data for whether people who regularly pray in the States are more likely to be ‘religious’ than others.

    But when we look at the example of Ireland- 70% regularly go to church but only 50% believe in God. If we assume (and again this is very unlikely) that everyone who believes in God goes to church that leaves 20% of the population who don’t believe in God but do go to church. So in Ireland- a minimum of 29% of people who go to church do not believe in God.

    I have also shown that out of people who do not regularly pray in the States- at least 41.6% believe in God. If US levels of people who go to church but do not believe in God were even a third of those in Ireland- it would be correct to say that MOST people who believe in God do not regularly go to church in the USA!
    Therefore for any study in the US which divides people along religious/non-religious lines based on frequency of public worship, has a huge portion of its data in the wrong place.

    The Brooks study claims to compare religious against non-religious. But actually it compares a potentially religious (and we don’t know how many non-religious people go to church) against a mix of religious and non-religious.

    This might be opening a whole can of worms here- but in the UK, if you divided people up along the lines of the Brooks study you would find that (using 2001 Census) 15% attend church at least monthly. They would be your religious people. BUT you would find that 71% of the population define themselves as Christian, and only 15.5% say they have no religion (or Jedi- but that’s assumed to be a joke). So your religious people would only be a small minority of self-identified Christians. And your non-religious people, would only have a tiny fraction of people who actually said they have no religion.
    Your results- whatever they might be would be practically worthless for determining whether Christians would be more likely to give to charity than people of no religion.

    http://www.vexen.co.uk/UK/religion.html#ChurchAttendance

    “So the question then is – on the whole and in terms of patterns, what kind of person is more likely to give to charity? A kind person where kindness is construed in moral terms, or a non-kind person?”

    But that questions contains a number of assumptions that you can’t prove. You’re guessing that people who give to charity are more likely to be moral in other areas of their lives. Perhaps they are- perhaps they aren’t. But you haven’t provided any evidence one way or the other.

    So to sum up:
    I don’t think that the study shows that religious people are more likely to give to charity. It shows people who publicly worship are more likely to give- and I think that fits much better with the pedagogic explanation.

    And even if it did, I don’t think that you can use ‘giving to charity’ as a basis for making a judgement as to how moral people are in other areas of their lives.

  36. Ray, I think we’ll have to agree to disagree.

    You (appear to) think there’s no plausible connection between religious observance and religious identity. I disagree, but to be honest, the issue is that I lack the patience to wait for someone (e.g. you – but anyone) to produce relevant and clear evidence that in the case of those sampled this lack of relationship exists. You shouldn’t make the claim before the evidence exists.

    You also want to divorce morality in general from kind character. I am not going to try to force you to accept that kind people are likely to apply that character to life in general. As you wish, you can carve up the moral landscape as you wish, but I happen to think that at very least, kind character is an important moral feature, so that even if religious faith is correlated to kind character then this fact is significant.

    Feel free to not accept either of these two claims. I think you’re resistant to these facts, but it’s none of my business why this is so.

  37. We can agree to disagree- that’s fine.

    But I still don’t think you’ve understood my position.

    I’m not saying that there is no plausible connection between religious observance and identity.
    They are clearly linked- BUT THEY ARE NOT THE SAME. You cannot simply substitute one for the other as a variable. They are not even NEARLY the same, because just under half of your American ‘atheists’ believe in God!

    An analogy that may or may not help:
    Men tend to be taller than women. There is a clear link.
    But if you defined men as everyone taller than 5 foot 8″ and women as everyone shorter- you would find that plenty of ‘men’ wore bras and plenty of ‘women’ didn’t. Wouldn’t be a great deal of use as a scientific study though because a large proportion of women are taller than 5 foot 8″/a large proportion of men are shorter.

    As far as divorcing morality from character- you may well be right in your claim- but the burden of proof lies on you to demonstrate this. I think you’ve essentially accepted that you are unable to do this. As I said before- my opinion on morality/charitable giving is not relevant- the point is that you have an unsubstantiated claim which underpins your entire argument. Can you honestly say that if our positions were reversed you would be happy to overlook this?

  38. TAM

    On the so called Zombies passage, I am unsure how to interpret this particular part of Matthew, several commentators I have read ( including a former NT lecturer of mine) suggest this part of Matthew uses standard Apocalyptic imagery and is hence not to be taken literally, which would explain why Mark, Luke and John do not mention the event. But I have not looked into the issue. I have discussed in with Glenn before and I remember him discussing it with aformentioned lecturer in class a few years ago.

    I note however that once again, atheists assume a fairly fundamentalist reading of the text, ignore the discussions about the text by evangelical scholars and then start ridiculing the caricature.

  39. Ken writes You will continually repeat this critical paper because it fits in with your own biases against the work (yet you yourself can’t find faults with the work – merely quote this reference).

    So Ken, when you talk of confirmation bias with studies, does that extend to scientists who never read any theological or philosophical worksof any status beyond popular level defending Christianity and then write books attacking Christianity.

    Does it extend to say quoting articles from wired magazine and then refusing to read peer reviewed published critiques of the same line of argument repeatedly pointed out to you?

    Last time I checked the response to that was “the courtiers reply” now the same method is apparently confirmation bias.

    Is this supposed to be deliberately ironic

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