Monday, February 25, 2008

Religion as a force for ignorance and delusion

Over at there's an article, "The coming religious peace," by Alan Wolfe, originally from The Atlantic magazine.

The article came with a graph that suggests that there is an inverse correlation between a country's religiosity and its per capita GDP, or, in simpler terms, the more religious a country is, the poorer it will be:


Toward the right and bottom corner of the graph are the most-prosperous and irreligious countries. At the very bottom is Western Europe, where, as Mr. Wolfe says, "God, if not dead, has only a faint pulse." Here we find Sweden, Britan and France.

Toward the left and top corner, poor yet very religious countries like Nigeria, Pakistan, Jordan and Egypt.

There are some exceptions to the trend, countries that don't quite line up on the trend line, like Kuwait and the United States. However, both countries happen to have a greater share of valuable natural resources. Kuwait is oil rich and the United States was also once oil wealthy, but we peaked back in the 1970s and started importing, as well as having an abundance of other natural resources. And there are plenty of countries not on the list, like Saudi Arabia, I assume it is wealthy and religious, and Estonia which I think is irreligious and poor which might make one question how this chart was put together.

Was it edited to create that trend line? I doubt it. It's from the Pew Global Attitudes Project and Pew isn't known to skew data against religion.

But even if the sampling is truly random the graph still doesn't prove that religion and GDP are causually connected. Certainly other factors are probably contributing to the various clusters of countries on that graph. Also, as I've said before, correlation just doesn't automatically equal causality and just because we'd like something to be true, doesn't make it true. However, in this case it might be possible to establish a rather obvious mechanism for how, at least certain forms of, religiosity contribute to the poverty of a country.

If you read PZ Myers' blog, Pharyngula, then you probably already know where I'm going with this. PZ is always ranting against some creationist and pointing out their ignorance, lies and delusions. It gets repetitive because the creationists are repetitive.

For example, a recent post by PZ in this regard is "Florida: Land of the Delusional." It's a short commentary on Donna Callaway's editorial in the Florida Baptist Witness that makes clear, yet again, that her reasons for rejecting evolution are religious.

Callaway masks her desire to impose her brand of ideological ignorance in a call for "student rights," "her religious identity" and "the example of Jesus as a master teacher." She is clearly, as PZ says, "swaddled in meters-thick layers of delusion" having "drunk deep of the Kool-Aid." And this kind of religiously inspired ignorance has economic consequences. Donna Callaway wants to change the way our children are educated. And this old chart, which corresponds roughly with the economic chart, is a measure of the success people like Callaway have had:


Many of the countries where acceptance of evolution is high are those same high GDP western European countries on the first chart, like Sweden and France. Japan is also high in accepting evolution and high on GDP. And the low GDP countries are also generally there, like Turkey, low on accepting evolution and low on GDP.

It's not hard to see why and predict it will get worse. It's one of the things that came out during the Dover trial, the way Behe wanted to redefine what science was to the point where astrology became a science. Rejecting evolution necessarily implies rejecting all the kinds of scientific thought processes that lead us to accept it. And those scientific thought processes are economically important, now more so than ever.

We’re now living in the 21st century and our economies are going to be more and more scientifically and technologically driven. It's not just the obvious new fields, like biotech and genetic engineering, which are only recently becoming economically important enough to significantly effect GDP. It's also older scientific knowledge bases, like geologists hired by the oil industry to use a knowledge of Earth's deep history to find oil.

While there are indeed Christian biologists, for example, Francis Collins and Ken Miller, who can accept the theory of evolution and remain self-identified as Christians they are not typical of either Christians or scientists.

While scientists are more atheistic than the rest of the population generally, those who publish in peer reviewed journals, the serious hard core scientists, are even more atheistic than those who merely have a degree. The more "hard core" the scientists the more atheistic.

I offer this to you as a question: Is atheism economically important?

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