Atheist Statistics For 2008 – Do You Believe These?

April 16, 2008  |  Mistaken Data

This video shows statistics centered around atheism, claiming that atheism is correlated with a healthy society. I don't want to turn this into a religious debate, but I really don't like these types of videos, slide shows, etc. It's not the ideas that bother me, but because some people think it's a great idea to rattle off a bunch of numbers to "prove" a point. Nevermind the biases, invalid studies, poor analysis, cruddy data, and "results" taken out of context.

What do you think? Do you buy this stuff?

17 Comments

  • correlation ≠ causality

    seriously!

  • correlation ≠ causality

    seriously!

  • I am familiar with all the studies cited in the video and they would not constitute “cruddy data”. Most of what was cited are serious, large statistical studies. In particular, the citation that the countries [prosperous democracies actually] with the highest levels of “organic atheism” (not forced by a regime) had the lowest levels of common societal ills (as per Creighton University…a Christian University). It is difficult to lie about mathematics. Correlations are correlations and there are standard accepted tools for determining these correlations. The proper and respected means of refuting such studies is not to baselessly ridicule, but to analyze the methods and data for errors or provide contrary, rigorous studies.

    In the case of the Creighton study, even if statistitions have differing opinions on the interpretation of the data, even the MOST flattering interpretation of the data demonstrates NO correlation between religion and societal health. See the nice graphical summary here: http://tinyurl.com/jpfkk . That summary also links back to the original Creighton Study.

    That being said, non-believers are not looking to turn the tables on the church do say that believers are evil and depraved. They are merely looking to demonstrate that they are AT LEAST a moral and ethical as the believer. Based on all the rigorous, empirical knowledge that we have, this conclusion is inescapable.

    As far as your discomfort with this video…would you have the same level of discomfort with a video that those of African descent were just as deserving of respect and whites?

  • I am familiar with all the studies cited in the video and they would not constitute “cruddy data”. Most of what was cited are serious, large statistical studies. In particular, the citation that the countries [prosperous democracies actually] with the highest levels of “organic atheism” (not forced by a regime) had the lowest levels of common societal ills (as per Creighton University…a Christian University). It is difficult to lie about mathematics. Correlations are correlations and there are standard accepted tools for determining these correlations. The proper and respected means of refuting such studies is not to baselessly ridicule, but to analyze the methods and data for errors or provide contrary, rigorous studies.

    In the case of the Creighton study, even if statistitions have differing opinions on the interpretation of the data, even the MOST flattering interpretation of the data demonstrates NO correlation between religion and societal health. See the nice graphical summary here: http://tinyurl.com/jpfkk . That summary also links back to the original Creighton Study.

    That being said, non-believers are not looking to turn the tables on the church do say that believers are evil and depraved. They are merely looking to demonstrate that they are AT LEAST a moral and ethical as the believer. Based on all the rigorous, empirical knowledge that we have, this conclusion is inescapable.

    As far as your discomfort with this video…would you have the same level of discomfort with a video that those of African descent were just as deserving of respect and whites?

  • To Mads Hjorth,
    The study Creighton study (and my linked summary) states your truth between causality and correlation. There are other citations (i.e. underrepresentation of non-believers in prisons) that really only have, as near as I can tell, one reasonable explanation.

  • My apologies. I clearly misinterpreted what aspect of this (and other) videos you wished to discuss in this forum…though I am not sure exactly what aspect you DID whish to discuss. Having had my share of statistics classes; I would find it interesting to discuss.

    Are you interested in the effectiveness of persuasion of videos that trot out statistics? …or the validity of the data cited?

  • right. i wasn’t trying to single out this atheism video. it just happened to be a video i came across that made me think of these types of videos in general.

    the main reason this type of “statistics roundup” troubles me is that for every dataset i’ve ever examined (outside of undergrad courses) the results are hardly ever so clear cut. there’s a certain level of uncertainty attached to results and almost always fuzzy gray areas, and so it is easy to take results (or lack of) out of context.

  • I won’t pretend to comment on the methodology of the studies behind this video, but if the numbers cited are in fact valied, then the video did a fairly crappy job of presenting them in a way that I found convincing. Some examples:

    * Religion basically serves people seeking deeper meaning and/or a better life — saying that people who live in a healthy society and who don’t have a lot of problems are less likely to be religious is like criticizing AA as being full of drunks. Which is what the first posted meant, I assume, about correlation and causation.

    * The statistics about marriage don’t address either the rates or reasons for marriage in the various groups — if, for example, not that many atheists marry in the first place, regarding marriage as an unnecessary religious institution, preferring to simply live together, the failure of those relationships wouldn’t be reflected in these statistics.

    * “There are no Atheists in Foxholes” just as there are no Atheists in prison — you’d expect people to *turn* to religion after arriving in prison; so the fact that the rates of belief inside and outside are the same means that religious people are less likely to be incarcerated in the first place.

    Anyway — like I said, I don’t have anything to say about the studies themselves, and actually the video wasn’t a particularly egregious example of its kind, but I didn’t find the statistics particularly convincing as presented.

  • I would have expected that a forum that seems based on numbers and statistics would find these sorts of things VERY convincing. While I can think of few academic courses that I disliked MORE than statistics, I appreciated the importance of and value the insights that statistics provide when compared to the spouting of opinions. The quality (or lack thereof) of the data represented aside, I give far more credence to empirically derived statistics than simple opinion. In the case of this particular video, many have the opinion that the non-religious are variously amoral, unethical, depraved etc, etc.. The video says all these statistics seem to say otherwise. I can’t think of a better way to refute an argument (assuming the studies are rigorous and valid).

    Of course it takes an astute and skeptical reader/viewer to look for corroboration of the data presented. I imagine that it is a minority of the populace that does actually does that. Would adding citations to these videos make the more convincing? … or would they make them more boring?

  • Shannon:
    “* “There are no Atheists in Foxholes” just as there are no Atheists in prison — you’d expect people to *turn* to religion after arriving in prison; so the fact that the rates of belief inside and outside are the same means that religious people are less likely to be incarcerated in the first place.”

    That’s a stretch. Where is the evidence that religious people are less likely to be criminals than non religious people? One might “expect” prisoners to find religion, but one would have to test this hypothesis. You use it as a starting point to declare that religious people are so much better citizens. Prisoners are likely to find religion, drugs, gangs, and more in prison. As for religious people, we have pedophile priests and crooked evangelist frauds running amok. If I watch the nightly news, I would “expect” religious people to be more likely to be criminals.

  • Shannon:
    “* “There are no Atheists in Foxholes” just as there are no Atheists in prison — you’d expect people to *turn* to religion after arriving in prison; so the fact that the rates of belief inside and outside are the same means that religious people are less likely to be incarcerated in the first place.”

    That’s a stretch. Where is the evidence that religious people are less likely to be criminals than non religious people? One might “expect” prisoners to find religion, but one would have to test this hypothesis. You use it as a starting point to declare that religious people are so much better citizens. Prisoners are likely to find religion, drugs, gangs, and more in prison. As for religious people, we have pedophile priests and crooked evangelist frauds running amok. If I watch the nightly news, I would “expect” religious people to be more likely to be criminals.

  • Returning to the original question….
    Is stating empirical statistics a good way to refute a bad argument? (It seems, to me, one of the best ways!). If so, what how does it need to be presented to make it convincing?

  • Jim Strathmeyer April 22, 2008 at 10:07 pm

    ““There are no Atheists in Foxholes” just as there are no Atheists in prison — you’d expect people to *turn* to religion after arriving in prison; so the fact that the rates of belief inside and outside are the same means that religious people are less likely to be incarcerated in the first place.”

    Wow, two incorrect premises in one statement, nice.

  • FVThinker: Numbers on their own are meaningless. The contexts in which those studies are conducted are key.

    Europe and the United States are simply not comparable in any meaningful way with just numbers. The historical trajectories of both regions are wildly different.

    Europe: Centuries of religious conflict leading to the Westphalian Peace and the creation of state church monopolies. Different conception of religion to Europeans grows as result. Seen as public utility to be used in times of need.

    US: Settler state with strict formal church/state separation. High competition amongst churches, leads to higher levels of religiosity.

    That’s just one nuance missing from the video.

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