How to get rid of religion

A few weeks ago I mentioned and linked to a PuffHo essay by Nigel Barber, an evolutionary psychologist. His thesis, with which I agree (and for which there’s a lot of evidence that I’ve posted on this website), is that the religiosity of a country is highly correlated with the dysfunctionality of the society; that is, the more dysfunctional a society, the more religious it is.

“Dysfunctionality” has been measured in various ways, including Greg Paul’s “Successful Societies Scale” (SSS), measures of income inequality (the Gini coefficient), and other indices of social-well being, including levels of education and health care, child mortality, and so on. (For one example; see Greg Paul’s paper on religiosity and the SSS.) This correlation also holds within the United States: the states having less “well being” (e.g., those mostly in the South) are more religious.

Based on these data and others (including demonstrations that increases in religiosity in America follow rather than precede or are concurrent with rises in income inequality), a good working hypothesis is that religiosity is higher when the citizens of a country feel more helpless, more dispossessed, and less likely to be taken care of by society. In such circumstances people turn to their only recourse: the supernatural sky father who is said to help them.

If our goal is to eradicate superstition, then, we must first create a society in which people feel more secure, and more equal to their fellows.  I’ve long been making this point, as have others, and it’s also one that Michael Shermer emphasized in his talk on Saturday (he wasn’t at mine earlier in the day, so he might be unaware of our agreement about this).  But we both stressed the relationship between religiosity and social well-being in our podcast. And we both agree with this statement by Marx, often taken out of context:

“Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people”.

This is a succinct summary of what I see as a profound truth. And I think it’s the explanation for why the U.S. is the most religious of First World nations: data show that although we’re a wealthy and technologically advanced society, we also rank highest on indices of social dysfunction.  In contrast, atheistic northern Europe is quite socially functional.

In a new piece at Pyschology Today, Barber has reprised his HuffPo piece in an essay called “Why atheism will replace religion: new evidence.

It seems that people turn to religion as a salve for the difficulties and uncertainties of their lives. In social democracies, there is less fear and uncertainty about the future because social welfare programs provide a safety net and better health care means that fewer people can expect to die young. People who are less vulnerable to the hostile forces of nature feel more in control of their lives and less in need of religion. Hence my finding of belief in God being higher in countries with a heavy load of infectious diseases.

But the data are even stronger since Barber has done a new study using not just the 17 countries studied by Greg Paul, or sixty used in studies of income inequality, but 137 societies, including important ones omitted in previous work: African countries and Islamic ones.  And what he finds is that the negative correlation between societal well being and religion is even stronger:

In a new study to be published in August, I provided compelling evidence that atheism increases along with the quality of life (1). [JAC note: click his link for the abstract; I have the whole pdf and have read the preprint.]

First, as to the distribution of atheism in the world, a clear pattern can be discerned. In sub-Saharan Africa there is almost no atheism (2). Belief in God declines in more developed countries and atheism is concentrated in Europe in countries such as Sweden (64% nonbelievers), Denmark (48%), France (44%) and Germany (42%). In contrast, the incidence of atheism in most sub-Saharan countries is below 1%.

. . . In my new study of 137 countries (1), I also found that atheism increases for countries with a well-developed welfare state (as indexed by high taxation rates). Moreover, countries with a more equal distribution of income had more atheists. My study improved on earlier research by taking account of whether a country is mostly Moslem (where atheism is criminalized) or formerly Communist (where religion was suppressed) and accounted for three-quarters of country differences in atheism.

In addition to being the opium of the people (as Karl Marx contemptuously phrased it), religion may also promote fertility, particularly by promoting marriage. Large families are preferred in agricultural countries as a source of free labor. In developed countries, by contrast, women have exceptionally small families. I found that atheism was lower in countries where a lot of people worked on the land.

His conclusion is one that I think is correct:

Even the psychological functions of religion face stiff competition today. In modern societies, when people experience psychological difficulties they turn to their doctor, psychologist, or psychiatrist. They want a scientific fix and prefer the real psychotropic medicines dished out by physicians to the metaphorical opiates offered by religion. No wonder that atheism increases along with third-level educational enrollment.

The reasons that churches lose ground in developed countries can be summarized in market terms. First, with better science, and with government safety nets, and smaller families, there is less fear and uncertainty in people’s daily lives and hence less of a market for religion. At the same time many alternative products are being offered, such as psychotropic medicines and electronic entertainment that have fewer strings attached and that do not require slavish conformity to unscientific beliefs.

There is one problem with Barber’s study: while he shows that variables like income inequality and education are all negatively and significantly correlated with religiosity, he tests each variable independently. But of course these “independent” factors aren’t really independent: they are cross correlated. That is, countries with higher levels of education are likely to have more developed welfare states.

To remedy this, one needs some sort of multiple regression or correlation analysis to partition out the effects of independent variables. Which is more important in explaining higher religiosity: poor medical care or more income inequality? To do this one must perform a statistical analysis in which each factor is varied, holding all the others constant.  Barber didn’t do this, and a proper study awaits that form of analysis.

Nevertheless, Barber’s paper is important (and I’ll link to it when it’s published) because it ups the numbers of countries surveyed, and thereby shows that the correlations between independent measures of societal dysfunction and religiosity are robust ones.  As one might expect, sub-Saharan African countries and Islamic countries don’t have high levels of well-being, and they’re also intensely religious.

In the end, I think more studies like this will ultimately explain much of the variation of religious belief among the world’s nations.  And it tells us something important as activist atheists or secularists. We can’t get rid of religion simply by pointing out that it’s false, disenfranchises women, fosters guilt, and so on. Yes, those are important things to do, and do make converts, but in the end religion will be with us until we create more just, more egalitarian, and more caring societies.

__________

Barber, N. (in press). A cross-national test of the uncertainty hypothesis of religious belief. Cross-Cultural Research.

Barber, N. (2012). Why atheism will replace religion: The triumph of earthly pleasures over pie in the sky. E-book, available at:http://www.amazon.com/Atheism-Will-Replace-Religion-ebook/dp/B00886ZSJ6/

128 Comments

  1. gbjames
    Posted November 5, 2012 at 11:20 am | Permalink

    Kind of a chicken and egg problem, no?

    • Posted November 5, 2012 at 5:13 pm | Permalink

      Just when I’m wondering who will be the next Gnu Atheist to spout off some stupidity, Coyne comes right along. Hey, Jerry, off the top of my head, the Stalinist USSR and Maoist China were far more dysfunctional than today’s US of A. And part of American dysfunctionality is structural from a constitution that has great amendments, but a crappy, crappy, anachronistic central body.

      Oh, and don’t pull out the Gnu trick of saying Stalin was Christian because he went to seminary. In that case, John Loftus (and I) are Christians, too. And, that doesn’t explain away Mao, in any case.

      And, to wrap up, I’ll note that Barber, when choosing his book’s title, even if his idea is right, didn’t read David Hume, and so commits an elemental version of the is-ought fallacy.

      • whyevolutionistrue
        Posted November 5, 2012 at 5:19 pm | Permalink

        I am referring to a correlation that exists today, one that is not overturned by the existence of one heavily ideological society that banned religion (note that Barber omitted formerly communist countries from his analysis precisely for this reason).

        And, by the way, you are an extremely rude person who has broken the rule of not personally insulting the host and other commenters.

        I suppose you’re over here on this website because nobody reads yours. Does it irk you that none of your posts ever gets any comments?

      • Posted November 5, 2012 at 5:30 pm | Permalink

        How many times must it be pointed out that the regimes of Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Pol Pot, Kim Jong-Il, etc, were religious regimes.

        It’s just that the Abrahamic god was replaced with Stalin, Hitler, Mao…

        PLUS…the claim is not that getting rid of religion decreases dysfunctionality. The claim is that getting rid of dysfunctionality leads to an abandonment of religion. I think it’s safe to say that those power-hungry, selfish autocrats did not get rid of dysfunctionality. (That writ, I think it’s also safe to say that getting rid of faith would be a great help in decreasing dysfunctionality. The actions of these individuals really don’t bear on the general issue of the relationship between atheism/religion and the well-being of a society.)

        • James Perkins
          Posted November 6, 2012 at 8:53 am | Permalink

          “Atheism is a material and inseparable part of Marxism” (Lenin)

        • djockovic
          Posted November 7, 2012 at 3:35 am | Permalink

          I imagine you’ll need to keep pointing this out until it becomes true. Which will of course be never.

      • aljones909
        Posted November 6, 2012 at 1:25 am | Permalink

        Well, if we’re looking back in history – how dysfunctional were the christian nations that carried out the slave trade? All supported by holy scripture. The high end estimate is 55 million murdered.

      • blitz442
        Posted November 6, 2012 at 9:48 am | Permalink

        “Oh, and don’t pull out the Gnu trick of saying Stalin was Christian because he went to seminary.”

        Let’s assume that Stalin was as atheistic as Bertrand Russell. As I see it, all this shows is that atheism is not sufficient for one to be a moral person.

        I believe that Jerry’s post is intended to show that religiosity might decrease if inequality decreases. But this doesn’t mean that a society will thrive simply because it is atheistic, especially if that atheism is enforced by a violent despot.

      • Posted November 6, 2012 at 10:10 am | Permalink

        It amazes me to this day that people still do not see how Stalinism, Maoism, Fascim and their like are EXACTLY like religion.

        It’s about believing in one ideology with no foundations based on reality.

        They are the SAME thing, except that Stalin, Mao and Hitler actually existed…

  2. Posted November 5, 2012 at 11:22 am | Permalink

    Is Barber’s data available? If so, perhaps some statistician would like to run the numbers as you suggest….

    b&

    • Occam
      Posted November 5, 2012 at 5:48 pm | Permalink

      JAC is surely right about the need to test for each variable holding all others constant.
      Also, many variables are not just cross-correlated, they are likely to be nested, conditional, and hierarchically dependent. Promising some fair statistical fun.

      But doing numerical work for historians and social scientists has made me acutely aware of another problem: even the proposed variables should not be taken for granted. Ideally, their definition ought to be thoroughly tested first.
      Egregious example:

      I also found that atheism increases for countries with a well-developed welfare state (as indexed by high taxation rates).

      Typical false proxy: high taxation is not necessarily indicative of a well-developed welfare state; lower taxation at the national level is not necessarily indicative of a lack of welfare institutions, if any measure of subsidiarity between organisational levels is extant; especially so within federative structures.

      The basic assumptions about the fundamental variables in such studies must first be seriously questioned. In my experience, they rarely are.

      • TJR
        Posted November 6, 2012 at 7:53 am | Permalink

        I just skimmed the paper and I think he deals with a lot of this. He does a regression of all the variables together, but also reports the individual correlations. He also mentions collinearity and in the footnotes mentions an earlier study which he claims is fatally flawed by not considering it.

        No sign of the data being made available (he seems to have collated them from several sources).

        However, he doesn’t show or mention any residual plots, so its hard to tell how well the regression model fits. Its a purely straight-line fit, with no square terms or cross-products, so it wouldn’t surprise me at all if the fit is not great. Not to mention whether a transform or link function might be needed for the response (a percentage).

        In addition, countries are of quite different sizes and there doesn’t seem to be any weighting by population (so Belgium counts the same as China).

        • Occam
          Posted November 6, 2012 at 8:40 am | Permalink

          Two more points:

          1. The automatic assumption of linear association is unwarranted and should be tested against alternative models.

          2. Countries as basic datapoint entities are definitely a bad idea (this has been discussed here before). In many cases, state boundaries do not coincide with cultural, ethnic, social, religious or economic entities. Informative data are not averaged out, they are destroyed.

  3. Sastra
    Posted November 5, 2012 at 11:22 am | Permalink

    And it tells us something important as activist atheists or secularists. We can’t get rid of religion simply by pointing out that it’s false, disenfranchises women, fosters guilt, and so on. Yes, those are important things to do, and do make converts, but in the end religion will be with us until we create more just, more egalitarian, and more caring societies.

    While this is probably true for the Big Picture politically, we can’t afford to lose sight of, or stop focusing on, the Bigger Picture –what’s true? That’s not an area where we make “converts” in the religious sense. Improving the quality of life gives us those kind of converts.

    We want to convince.

    • darrelle
      Posted November 5, 2012 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

      Tactics vs strategy.

    • Marella
      Posted November 5, 2012 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

      Religion is only a comfort when you’re stressed if you have some sort of reason to believe it’s true. If you know it’s bullshit then it’s no use.

  4. acitta
    Posted November 5, 2012 at 11:24 am | Permalink

    It is hard to create a more egalitarian society if you keep electing people who are infected with religious superstition and who want to maintain an unequal society.

  5. Mark Joseph
    Posted November 5, 2012 at 11:34 am | Permalink

    What goes on in societies as a whole is nicely mirrored in what goes on in political parties–those more in favor of social inequality are also those that are more religious.

  6. Mark Plus
    Posted November 5, 2012 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

    While absorbing the implications of the evidence for how religious works and how it can go away for relatively trivial reasons, I have a reaction like, “What a letdown!”

    High-minded people for generations have philosophized about how god belief shows the grandeur and tragedy of the human condition, how it ennobles even the humblest person and so forth. Perhaps that sounded plausible back when even the high status people lived under conditions we would consider comparable to post-apocalyptic survival. Yet the emergence of a fairly uniform social system conducive to human development in much of the world has created a change in the environment where religious belief fails to thrive. I suppose some intellectuals in the Enlightenment had predicted that outcome based on practically zero evidence, well before we could run the experiment. I guess they had a good intuition into the basis of god belief after all.

    • BillyJoe
      Posted November 5, 2012 at 8:39 pm | Permalink

      Intuition is always based on something, even if that something is hidden in the deep recesses of the subconscious. Which is not to say that intuitions are always correct. In fact, intuitions are rarely turn out to be correct when tested against the evidence.
      Perhaps they just got lucky.

  7. Posted November 5, 2012 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

    Could I just try a simple challenge to the religious community? If there are multiple religions, which indeed there are, and if the penalty for being stuck in the wrong one is eternal damnation, should they not spend most of their lives researching which is the one true religion? I mean, is this not the most vital thing that they should get right in their short little lives? After all, it’s not as if, the Catholic faith doesn’t allow deathbed conversions and no doubt most other competing brands offer similar introductory deals.

    No, the fact that most people never even consider alternatives, suggests that religion is never a matter of rational choice but is almost totally cultural, with a whole lot of other stuff as thrown in as well. I suspect there may be evolutionary aspects as well but this opens another Pandora’s box.

    • eric
      Posted November 5, 2012 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

      I think the point of JAC’s post is: your ‘simple challenge’ will fail to change minds as long as society is unequal, people are relatively poor, relatively hungry, etc.

    • BillyJoe
      Posted November 5, 2012 at 8:50 pm | Permalink

      Only if you are under the delusion that the religious are rational. Religion is a cultural, emotional, and irrational activity. It does not even occur to most religious people to examine other faiths, just as it does not even occur to them that they should not strive so hard to stay alive because, if there is an afterlife, it is better to die and get there sooner.

  8. couchmar
    Posted November 5, 2012 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

    You make interesting points about the relation between the presence of dysfunction in society and religion. But it is probably the case that no single explanatory factor is sufficient to explain what’s going on across different societies in terms of their level of atheism. For instance, one of the reasons France is so atheistic is that all French students take a year of philosophy at the high school level, which is compulsory (this makes philosophers drool in the US!). It’s amazing what a year of reading people like Hume, Nietzsche, Marx, and Freud can do for turning one away from religious belief. This sort of influence is relevant to the experience of France, I imagine, (and may also explain why France is so socially functional), but it is not clear what other factors are relevant in other cases.

    • Jeff D
      Posted November 5, 2012 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

      I find this explanation (positive correlation of religiosity with social dysfunction and personal and economic insecurity) to be attractive. To take an old, old example, levels of personal and economic insecurity, social upheaval, etc. were apparently rather high in Roman-governed Palestine in the 1st century B.C.E. and in the first century C.E., and those conditions may have provided fertile soil for the growth of various Messianic and eschatological religious movements, factions and splinter groups.

      However, I think that another factor has also been at work in the U.S.A. since early in the 19th century: The “free competition,” invention, and re-invention among religious sects that were made possible here by our First Amendment and the absence of official, state-sanctioned, state-supported churches after the States began to put [No-] Establishment clauses into their own constitutions. There really has been nothing to stop any small group from creating its own religion, by combining orrowed and mashed-up bits of doctrine and ritual and with freshly-minted, imaginative B.S. We let a thousand religious flowers bloom, with the blossoms being poisonous to a greater or lesser degree. Entry barriers to competition were and are low.

  9. darrelle
    Posted November 5, 2012 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

    “And I think it’s the explanation for why the U.S. is the most religious of First World nations: data show that although we’re a wealthy and technologically advanced society, we also rank highest on indices of social dysfunction.”

    It is almost as if those people that have been controlling the course of the Republican party are aware of this correlation between religiosity and social dysfunction and have been designing their tactics to take advantage of it. But …. no, that would be too much like a Dan Brown story.

    “Yes, those are important things to do, and do make converts, but in the end religion will be with us until we create more just, more egalitarian, and more caring societies.

    And isn’t it nice, and interesting, that doing that just happens to be pretty much the most decent, most moral (by most peoples’ standards), endeavor that a person could commit themselves to? And isn’t it ironic that while most religions claim to strive for such an outcome, and claim that such an outcome is only possible via religion, the data clearly shows that achieving that goal will greatly reduce the incidence of religious belief?

    • Sastra
      Posted November 5, 2012 at 5:38 pm | Permalink

      The religious know. That is why they harp on so passionately about why the Problem of Evil is no problem at all: if the world was too happy, then people would not find it necessary to turn to God.

    • H.H.
      Posted November 5, 2012 at 5:45 pm | Permalink

      And isn’t it ironic that while most religions claim to strive for such an outcome, and claim that such an outcome is only possible via religion, the data clearly shows that achieving that goal will greatly reduce the incidence of religious belief?

      Yeah, makes you wonder how hard they’ve been trying.

  10. jimroberts
    Posted November 5, 2012 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

    If our goal is to eradicate superstition, it is not clear that eradicating religion gets us very far: people who lose belief in gods may well maintain, or even increase, their irrational beliefs in quack medicine, or their objections to GM foods and stem-cell research (to pick a couple of examples) – this is very evident in the supposedly functional societies of western Europe.

    • corio37
      Posted November 5, 2012 at 4:21 pm | Permalink

      But there is an important difference: religion generally forms relatively large self-reinforcing communities, while believers in mystical woo are largely on their own or in small groups. That gives religion much more behavioural clout than woo.

      It’s hard to believe, for instance, that a crazed believer in astrology could beat her child to death for failing to learn the star charts. Someone in the community would surely spot the danger signs well beforehand. But in a religious community the signs of craziness are encouraged as demonstrations of piety.

      • Sastra
        Posted November 5, 2012 at 5:47 pm | Permalink

        Concentrated ‘woo’ IS religion. Spirituality can also kill, and people who live in areas surrounded by the spiritual-but-not-religious recognize how closed and anti-science such communities can be. Consider jimrobert’s example of alternative medicine, and ask “what’s the harm?”

        I agree with jim, but you make a good point. The significant factor, I think, is how important people think “faith” is, how vital it is to surround yourself only with people who agree with you, and how useless it is to think there is common ground. You can get lackadaisical fundamentalists and fanatic New Agers.

      • Sastra
        Posted November 5, 2012 at 5:59 pm | Permalink

        But in a religious community the signs of craziness are encouraged as demonstrations of piety.

        Ok. I read this again and laughed. Haven’t associated with many New Age communities, have you?

        They would all swear up and down that they are not “religious” and they are very open and free — and The Crazy is really, really encouraged, as a sign of Enlightenment rather than conventional “piety,” perhaps.

        One of my friends — who has lived in several communities specifically devoted to “spirituality” and is deep into the woo herself — did once confess to me that several times such well-meaning collectives ran into problems because some of the gurus and leaders were … well … mentally ill. At times. At other times, their Insights into the True Nature of Things were breathtakingly inspiring. I’ll bet.

        It was hard to tell who and what was crazy. Which surprised me not a bit. You ought to read some of their literature. They deny your reality and substitute their own, with no checks and balances and the belief that they are Spiritual Beings above the lowly laws of science by ridding themselves of the Illusion of Self. Freaking self-made self-served self-involved recipes for disaster.

  11. J.G.
    Posted November 5, 2012 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

    I think it’s probably more complicated than is suggested here. Consider the “deep south” of both Europe and the US.

    I suspect that the US deep south would still be quite religious even if there were a Scandinavian style social net in place. There are plenty of affluent Bible Belters who have no day to day concerns about their health and are well educated yet are still quite religious.

    And there are several countries in southern Europe with a well educated public, solid social net in place with universal health care that still have a highly religious population (Cyprus and Portugal for example).

    I don’t think statistics like church attendance are a reliable metric for gauging how rational a population. You can believe in nonsense and not belong to a church. There is still a lot of woo peddled in European nations, including Scandinavian ones.

    The fact that the European and especially northern European nations seem to have less of a need for organized religion in their lives could well owe more to do with cultutal factors than their access to health care (doesn’t Scandinavia also have especially high suicide rates?).

    Still, it tends to be organized religion that causes problems more so than unorganized beliefs in various and sundry woo, so I wish the US were more like Scandinavia and didn’t have places like Mississippi, yet I doubt getitng rid of religion is as simple as providing a sound social net.

    • darrelle
      Posted November 5, 2012 at 4:03 pm | Permalink

      I agree it is very complicated, many variables at play, and I think the OP mentioned that as well where he discusses the problems with Barber’s study. But, the correlation between social dysfunction and religiosity is not an interpretation of data. It is the straight data. And it is a strong correlation that only got stronger as more data from more countries was added.

      There are bound to be outliers. Cyprus & Portugal may be such, I don’t know off hand. But, the example of the US deep south is flawed, I think. Though there are wealthy and, relatively, well educated people in the US deep south that are religious believers, they are a very small percentage of a population that is otherwise the poorest and worst educated in the US. Would they still be religious if the incidence and strength of conviction of religious belief in the general population were very low? Do the majority of these wealthy educated people really have strong religious convictions? Or do they have religious convictions for social reasons? As a tool for maintaining / increasing wealth and power?

      • aljones909
        Posted November 5, 2012 at 5:07 pm | Permalink

        Portugal and Cyprus have only recently begun to approach northern European standards of wealth and well-being. I have some experience of Portugal. They had a military dictatorship until 1974 and social provision still lags well behind northern European standards. Ireland was one of the most religious countries in Europe. The big improvement in living standards over the last three decades has been accompanied by a significant fall in religiosity.

    • raven
      Posted November 5, 2012 at 6:24 pm | Permalink

      (doesn’t Scandinavia also have especially high suicide rates?).

      No. Some locations do however, have a high rate of search engine phobia.

      wikipedia suicide rates:

      30 Sweden 17.7 7.1 12.3 per 100,000 2009

      Sweden does not have the highest suicide rate in the world. It is 12.3 per 100,000.

      Equal to the USA at 12 per 100,000.

  12. Brad
    Posted November 5, 2012 at 2:06 pm | Permalink

    Religion is simply man’s attempt to link a highly shakeable self system with that with it perceives as unshakeable. Doesn’t matter if its true. What matters is how unbelievably effective it is. Religion’s longevity attests to this. The fact that religion-free societies require psychotropic measures to manage themselves is unfortunate. It means that in the absence of a God figure the self remains a highly unstable system in need of constant medicinal care. Over time this will turn pharm companies into the steeple-less churches that they already have become in my opinion. If we define a deity as something that keeps a self system from spinning out of control then the difference between gods and drugs are not as pronounced as we think.

    • Posted November 5, 2012 at 2:13 pm | Permalink

      I was unaware that Japan and Scandinavia had unusually high incidences of substance (ab)use. Would you be so kind as to offer a pointer to some data that supports this claim?

      b&

      • Brad
        Posted November 5, 2012 at 6:04 pm | Permalink

        Ben, Barber argues that religion is a salve against life’s uncertainties. I would go one step further. I feel it’s a salve for a human beings most basic fear about what happens after life, not during it. See Becker’s Denial of Death. Now according to Barber, more modern societies(less religious) are turning to psychotropic medicines to deal with their own intra-pyschic storms. At what rate I wonder? But I’m interested in the nature of these storms because if they’re fear based, and psychology traces most all of anxiety back to death fear, then that would suck because then religion and psychotropes would have identical functions in terms of ones immediate interior experience. In other words, psychotropes explain the usefulness of religion better than religion does. Not good because it’s religions usefulness that needs to be systematically broken down…

      • raven
        Posted November 5, 2012 at 6:09 pm | Permalink

        Brad’s “facts” are just wrong.

        The USA has the highest alcoholism and drug use rates in the world.

        IIRC, the drug use rates in Sweden are really low.

        google captures:

        US Has Highest Levels of Illegal Drug Use – Alcoholism – About.com
        alcoholism. about. com › Health › Alcoholism › About Drug Abuse

        1 Jul 2008 – U.S. Has Highest Levels of Illegal Drug Use … policies towards illegal drug use did not have lower levels of such drug use than countries with

        U.S. Leads The World In Illegal Drug Use – CBS News
        ww.cbsnews.com/2100-500368_162-4222322.html

        1 Jul 2008 – … shows the U.S. has the highest level of illegal drug use in the world. … Organization’s survey of legal and illegal drug use in 17 countries, …

        • raven
          Posted November 5, 2012 at 6:14 pm | Permalink

          lifetime cannabis use wikipedia:

          Sweden National 2006 16-64 12.0

          England National 2005-6 14-59 29.8
          Wales National 2005-6 16-59 29.8
          Northern Ireland National 2002-3 15-64 16.8
          Scotland National 2004 16-64 20.5
          United Kingdom United Kingdom overall 2004 14+ 29.6
          United States National 2002-3 14+ 42.4

          Brad’s facts are just made up.

          Sweden has a lifetime cannabis use rate (even once) of 12%. The USA lifetime rate is 42.4%.

    • mandrellian
      Posted November 5, 2012 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

      “The fact that religion-free societies require psychotropic measures to manage themselves is unfortunate.”

      It’s interesting that you chose to read “Less religious societies prefer actual medicine to prayer when illness is experienced” to “Religion-free societies need drugs because they don’t have God.” In other words, you chose to imply that less-religious societies replace Marx’s metaphorical “opium of the people” with actual opium.

      The fact that some people think religion is the answer, to the point of purposely misreading anything anyone says about it that isn’t complimentary and inserting their own interpretation, is part of the problem under discussion. If faith-sellers can’t read and engage with the words of others honestly, the problem is going to continue.

      • Brad
        Posted November 5, 2012 at 5:27 pm | Permalink

        Atheist here, thank you very much. Don’t have a clue what it is you think I’m arguing.

    • Kevin
      Posted November 5, 2012 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

      Umm…bullshit.

      The US leads in the use of psychotropic drugs. The most religious so-called “First World” country.

      By a LOT. In fact, US use is about equivalent to the rest of the world COMBINED.

      Kindly please do not express uninformed opinions as facts in the future. Thanks.

      • Brad
        Posted November 5, 2012 at 5:29 pm | Permalink

        Are you under the impression that I’m arguing that God-based societies don’t need drugs but that God-less ones do? C’mon now.

      • whyevolutionistrue
        Posted November 5, 2012 at 5:34 pm | Permalink

        Kindly stop being so nasty, Kevin.

    • aljones909
      Posted November 5, 2012 at 5:15 pm | Permalink

      I think your projecting your own psychological god dependence onto everyone else. I’ve never personally found myself liable to spin out of control due to lack of belief in a fictional being.

      • Brad
        Posted November 5, 2012 at 5:31 pm | Permalink

        No such dependence exists as I am atheist. Interesting that everyone seems to have pegged me otherwise…

        • mandrellian
          Posted November 5, 2012 at 6:23 pm | Permalink

          The common denominator here is your comment.

          If most of your respondents misunderstand you in more or less the same way, are they all making exactly the same error or is there a possibility your point was not exactly clear?

          No, maybe I don’t understand what you were on about after all. But I’m obviously not alone.

  13. Marella
    Posted November 5, 2012 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

    In addition to being the opium of the people (as Karl Marx contemptuously phrased it),

    I don’t think this is fair. Marx’s statement about religion sounds very compassionate to me, just because he understood the role of religion in most people’s lives doesn’t mean he had contempt for it. I think Barber is confusing modern US contempt for users of recreational drugs with Marx’s attitude to them.

    • mandrellian
      Posted November 5, 2012 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

      I had the same reaction – like you, I think Marx was realistic about faith’s value to the undervalued.

      I don’t think it’s any accident whatsoever that faith tends to get stronger among the oppressed or powerless (especially after generations of being born into poverty or slavery, for example) – feeling that you’ve got an inestimable reward coming to you after a short life of hardship and pain is a powerful psychological salve.

    • Sastra
      Posted November 5, 2012 at 6:07 pm | Permalink

      It’s all in the tone. Say “religion is the opium of the people” as if it’s an artificial drug which prevents them from dealing with reality and you’re “bashing religion.” Say the exact same words as if sympathizing with people’s pain and suffering and recognizing the need for comfort — and the religious will embrace you gratefully.

      The point remains the same. All they care about is spin. Sound like you approve of them and you can often get away with the most amazing insults.

      • John Scanlon, FCD
        Posted November 7, 2012 at 4:59 am | Permalink

        Thinking opium is artificial would be a… misunderstanding.

  14. Posted November 5, 2012 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

    I think the key issue is fairness, not equality. I believe we can accept inequality as long as we think it was attained on a level playing field. To the point, the recent NFL referee lockout. We can accept winning and losing, we just need to know the rules the game is played by are fair, and that they are evenly enforced. I think Michael Shermer might agree, in that he has a talk about the evolution of fairness.

    In other words, inequality is not necessarily unfair; unfairness has to do with how the inequality evolves.

    • jimroberts
      Posted November 5, 2012 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

      +1

    • aljones909
      Posted November 5, 2012 at 5:30 pm | Permalink

      The degree of inequality is surely significant. The U.K. has moved towards the U.S. model of huge disparities in wealth. I think the pay for the top exec has gone from 20x average salary to 200x average salary.

      • Posted November 5, 2012 at 5:57 pm | Permalink

        No argument from me there. You’re right, inequality is extremely significant, and I’m in strong agreement with the premise of the main article, that it’s necessary reduce inequality in order to reduce the stranglehold religion has on our society.

        I’m just trying to make the case that inequality is not necessarily the cause, but the effect. Fairness goes much deeper, in an evolutionary sense; it has its roots in nonhuman animals, and its path can be followed from kin selection, through reciprocal altruism, to the more complex manifestations of social, economic, and political institutions of human cultural evolution.

        When one group or another demands equality, often the knee jerk reaction is to accuse them of communism. I think it is much harder to level any such accusations at demands for fairness.

        That said, fairness is not so simple to define. For example, both the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street claim they want fairness, but both mean very different things.

      • Gary W
        Posted November 5, 2012 at 8:31 pm | Permalink

        Then if Barber is right, we should expect religiosity to have increased in the UK as well, as a result of those increasing disparities of wealth. But religiosity hasn’t increased. Like the U.S., Britain is becoming less religious.

        This again suggests to me that what really matters is not inequality but poverty. If poverty goes down, then religiosity will likely go down too, even if inequality goes up.

        • BillyJoe
          Posted November 5, 2012 at 9:34 pm | Permalink

          The UK might be a special case. There is a sort of “state religion” in the UK. As a result, no one pays much attention to religion.

          • infiniteimprobabilit
            Posted November 5, 2012 at 10:35 pm | Permalink

            Probably the best way to do it, have a sort of mild state religion which is not enforced. A bit like cowpox in making susceptible people less prone to contracting more virulent strains…

          • aljones909
            Posted November 6, 2012 at 1:36 am | Permalink

            I think we now have a long tradition of non belief in the U.K. I was at school in the sixties and the only people I knew that attended church were catholics. It may be a difficult habit to re-acquire once lost. I doubt if the deprived in the U.K. are any more religious than the affluent. The exception to this, of course, is the immigrant community.

          • djockovic
            Posted November 6, 2012 at 9:31 am | Permalink

            What sort of “state religion” do you think the UK has? Cricket, football, moaning about the weather, Eastenders? Please explain.

            • Elrac
              Posted November 6, 2012 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

              Does “The Church of England” or “Anglican Church” ring a bell?

              The Queen is still officially the leader (?) of the church as well, and a gaggle of Anglican Bishops are constitutionally committed to sitting in the House of Lords.

            • Rob
              Posted November 6, 2012 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

              Who’s the nominal head of the Church of England?

              • djockovic
                Posted November 6, 2012 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

                I have no idea. Alex Salmond?

  15. Andrew Fredriksen
    Posted November 5, 2012 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

    Stop brainwashing children. Teach them whats currently known through science. Teach them critical thinking. Teach them they can be good all by themselves. Religion will be gone in two generations.

  16. Posted November 5, 2012 at 6:00 pm | Permalink

    Jerry, whenever you talk about this, you appear to believe that the causation/correlation is one way only. Given your many cogent descriptions of the harm religion produces, might it not also be the case that increased religiosity brings about greater disfunction? Certainly religiosity decreases support for basic science, evidence-based medicine, and education – so, efforts to, say, tackle the problem by increasing quality of and access to critical thinking education and civics run up against resistance from religious thinking.

    In fact, it seems more likely that the two operate in a positive feedback mechanism, which can be broken, and may require breaking, by tackling both ends of the problem.

    I’m not sure the chronology supports the narrative that decline in religion follows only after reductions in social disfunction, and not at least partially the other way around. See: The Enlightenment, for example.

  17. Sastra
    Posted November 5, 2012 at 6:17 pm | Permalink

    “… a good working hypothesis is that religiosity is higher when the citizens of a country feel more helpless, more dispossessed, and less likely to be taken care of by society. In such circumstances people turn to their only recourse: the supernatural sky father who is said to help them.’

    The religious should have no problem accepting this hypothesis as very likely, since they are the ones who often advance it as an argument FOR the existence of God.

    I mean, look at it. Isn’t this simply a re-working of the No Atheists in Foxholes trope, which insists both that God exists — and people know it deep down — because when fear is high and there is no other help, people cry on God? They’ve been working this ‘working hypothesis’ as hard as they can for years and years.

    “Happy people get “arrogant” and fail to acknowledge their dependence on God UNTIL the shit hits the fan: then, as God knew they would, they drop the self-sufficient pretense and recognize they need God.” What we see as a bug — something which undermines both the truth and necessity of religion — is what they’ve always been boasting about as a damn feature.

  18. Gary W
    Posted November 5, 2012 at 8:22 pm | Permalink

    Census Bureau income data shows a more or less steady increase in household income inequality (Gini ratio) over the past 40+ years. But evidence of religiosity seems to indicate that religiosity has been in decline over the same period. The claim that higher income inequality causes greater religiosity does not seem to be supported by the evidence, at least for the past generation or two in the U.S.

  19. logicophilosophicus
    Posted November 6, 2012 at 1:24 am | Permalink

    I don’t think these correlations need any further explanation than: “atheism increases along with third-level educational enrollment.”

    The argument that religion is the product of dysfunctional society implies that all early societies – as far as we know they all had religions – were dysfunctional. That’s a pretty strong anti-evolutionary position (what evolves is always relatively well adapted).

    A parallel argument could be made by correlating darkness of skin with lack of “social success” (using the same definitions). It would, rightly, be condemned for ignoring the historical and environmental background.

    [

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted November 6, 2012 at 4:47 am | Permalink

      Other studies have shown that anti-scientifiic views are independently correlated (negatively) with religious belief, regardless of level of education. Other things, including where one is born (dysfunctional South included) play a role, so it’s not just educational environment.

      Don’t forget that early societies were terribly dysfunctional on the SSS: high child mortality, low “income,” and terrible health care.

      Your criticism, in this light, doesn’t hold water.

      • logicophilosophicus
        Posted November 7, 2012 at 3:17 am | Permalink

        Since spiritual belief is by definition antimaterialist, your first point is unsurprising.

        Re the SSS, it seems strange to me to apply a relative standard from the 21st century to societies thousands of years earlier. On that basis even the best societies today are dysfunctional simply because they lack the medical advances which will be made in a hundred or a thousand years’ time – as you seem to be blaming early religion for the absence of antiseptic obstetric practice, international famine relief, and all the other major factors in reducing child mortality. My point was that the most successful societies in the ancient world were not apparently less religious.

      • logicophilosophicus
        Posted November 7, 2012 at 3:18 am | Permalink

        Whoops – I assumed you meant “positively” (in the statistical sense).

  20. Bjorn
    Posted November 6, 2012 at 3:08 am | Permalink

    The article says that there are 64% atheists in Sweden and 48% in Denmark. I am Swedish and to me 64% sounds extremely low.

    I am not saying that it is incorrect, however, I have never met a swede in my life, or dane for that matter, that believes in god. This might be a result from “I don’t believe in God, but I believe in something.” This is something I hear far too often from the people of Scandinavia, and the reason may be that they have not been exposed to the evidence for evolution as much as one would hope.

    In Richard Dawkins book The Greatest Show On Earth, he puts forth one table showing the result when people from different countries were asked if ‘human beings, as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animals.’ In this you can see that 82% of the swedes answered this to be true, and 83% of the danes answered it to be true.

    In the second table, people are being asked if ‘the earliest humans lived at the same time as the dinosaurs.’ Here 87% of the swedes answered that this was false, and 79% of the danes answered that it was false.

    What I can remember from my time in school here in Sweden is that I was never really taught about evolution, or the evidence for it. I had to learn it on my own. We are not being taught that there is a god, but the evidence for evolution is unfortunately not taught as well as it should be. Even though we are not taught about the evidence for evolution, there is no beef about whether we were made from god or if we evolved. Almost everyone agrees that we evolved.

    This is why when you ask people in Sweden whether they believe in God or not, they tend to give you the answer “I don’t believe in God, but I believe in something,” maybe it is a result from the immense political correctness we have here in Sweden.

    Maybe this was unnecessary to point out, but a mere number of only 64% atheists is embarrassing and I just had to point out that the result from the polls made in the article may be misleading. I strongly believe that the number of atheists in Scandinavia is a lot higher.

  21. djockovic
    Posted November 6, 2012 at 6:33 am | Permalink

    So all you need to do to put an end to religion is build the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth. Best get cracking.

    And, on a different note, are the abortion figures factored into the dysfunction equation, or does dispatching millions for convenience not count as dysfunctional?

    • ltunmer
      Posted November 6, 2012 at 8:53 am | Permalink

      At the risk of derailing this thread: what is dysfunctional is the perfect storm of cutting sex education, reducing the availability of contraception and restricting the access to abortion services, all of which limit the choices women can make to manage their lives. All while building hysteria around the sanctity of the unborn life, fuelled by religious fundamentalism. These efforts contribute to more unsafe abortions, more unwanted children, more broken families, and more welfare dependence. So, yes, reducing access to safe abortions does lead to a more dysfunctional society.

      • Posted November 6, 2012 at 8:59 am | Permalink

        Don’t think you’re derailing this thread, but instead, bringing a welcomed dose of reality. I’ve had the cynical suspicion that some of the wealthy and powerful who back the fundamentalists might have such a strategy in mind.

      • djockovic
        Posted November 6, 2012 at 9:27 am | Permalink

        That’s not the question, and it’s hardly derailing the thread. The thread’s partly about measuring dysfunction. And my point was that the measure of dysfuntion being used, by not counting what is arguably an outrageous moral wrong, may be so biased as to be worthless. That is, count (convenience) abortion as as a serious moral no no, as some would argue (perhaps correctly) that it is, and suddenly the correlation between atheism and utopia is turned on its head.

        • Posted November 6, 2012 at 10:26 am | Permalink

          djockovic, I think if you want to argue that abortion causes dysfunction in society, you need to give some actual examples of that dysfunction, as ltumner has. To state that abortion itself is dysfunctional from a moral standpoint is clearly not such an argument.

          • djockovic
            Posted November 6, 2012 at 10:43 am | Permalink

            No, I don’t want to argue that abortion is a CAUSE of dysfunction. I am arguing that/asking whether millions being dispatched for convenience IS dysfunctional in and of itself. And, I am saying that if that is true, then discounting such things from the measure of dysfuntionality means the measure is worthless. As worthless, say, as measuring societal dysfunction purely on the basis train punctuality, for example.

            • Posted November 6, 2012 at 10:52 am | Permalink

              Well, I think I at least understand your point now. However, I suspect that if we divorce our arguments from any consideration of cause and effect, we won’t get very far in resolving any of the real issues society faces. We’ll just be taking positions.

              • djockovic
                Posted November 6, 2012 at 11:07 am | Permalink

                But if you only talk in terms of cause and effect then nothing can be a “real issue” in and of itself. And there can be, in that way of thinking, no way to categorise anything as dysfunctional, or categorise it in any other way for that matter, since all there are are effects leading to further effects leading to further effects and so on. At some point you’re going to have to confront the things you want/don’t want for their own sake.

            • ltunmer
              Posted November 6, 2012 at 10:57 am | Permalink

              My expressing a fear of derailment is obviously because abortion is such an emotive issue, and that means that the discussion on the other measures of a society’s dysfunction can get drowned out.

              You’ve twice used the word ‘convenience’ with respect to abortion. This is usually code for an accusation against women being too promiscuous and using abortion as a form of primary birth control (i.e. not bothering with pregnancy-prevention contraception). Do you have some statistics which indicate that there many women who have had abortions that view it as an easy option? My suspicion is that there aren’t many, but I admit I don’t have hard facts either. We hear disturbing stories of women in some US states have to walk the side-walk of abuse when they visit abortion clinics (in many cases after having travelled great distances since the number of clinics have been reduced). I would say that most women who have an abortion are absolutely desperate in not wanting to have a child that they can’t care for.

              So I would say that a society that puts real value on the choice of a woman to control her life and her reproduction is a more egalitarian, and more caring society.

              • djockovic
                Posted November 6, 2012 at 11:19 am | Permalink

                It’s not code for anything except the simple fact that many abortions (most abortions) are not performed for medical reasons or because, say, the woman was raped, but simply because a child is not wanted at that time. My point, however, was more about the measure of societal dysfunctionality and what sense can be made of such a notion when the most basic elements of the measure are so open to cultural bias. How does religiousity and dysfunctionality measure up, eg, if we take destruction of the environment/pollution as the key indicator. Seems pretty clear that the destruction of the environment is largely down to atheist, and thus dysfunctional, countries.

              • Gary W
                Posted November 6, 2012 at 7:30 pm | Permalink

                djockovic,

                An unwanted pregnancy is vastly more serious than an “inconvenience.” That’s why your claim that abortion is evidence of dysfunction because it’s merely a matter of “convenience” makes no sense. What *would* be dysfunctional is the increase in abuse and neglect that would surely result from a million additional children a year being born to mothers who don’t really want them.

              • infiniteimprobabilit
                Posted November 6, 2012 at 10:34 pm | Permalink

                I totally agree with Gary W (never thought I’d say that ;)

                But there’s another nonsense statement from djokovic: “Seems pretty clear that the destruction of the environment is largely down to atheist, and thus dysfunctional, countries.”

                If that made any coherent sense it would be a troll.

  22. Posted November 6, 2012 at 7:06 am | Permalink

    Whenever people have quoted “There are no atheists in foxholes,” at me, I’ve countered with, “By that reasoning, there are no believers in paradise, either.”

    When we eliminate the social equivalent of the Valley of the Shadow of Death, then we also the need for a Divine Shepherd to comfort us.

  23. Abhi
    Posted November 6, 2012 at 7:14 am | Permalink

    Jerry concludes with:

    “…in the end religion will be with us until we create more just, more egalitarian, and more caring societies.”

    This does seem very intuitive to me. I am not sure though whether we are confusing co-relation with causation? As far as I understand, these studies tease out the various co-relations (undoubtedly statistically significant) between ‘religiosity’ and ‘social dysfunction’ agreed to by various criteria. However is it accurate to extend this co-relation to imply that one causes the other too? As I said, it does sound very intuitive to me but I don’t know if this extension is an accurate one?

  24. SSE
    Posted November 6, 2012 at 9:09 am | Permalink

    Do people in dysfunctional societies “turn to their only recourse: the supernatural sky father who is said to help them,” or are they actually turning to a community to find safety in numbers? That is, is this about “faith” or about “community”?
    The 2004 “Blue Zones” study (http://www.bluezones.com/about/) cites as one of the factors leading to a longer and healthier life the participation in a “faith community.” That is the term that is used, “faith” community. I wonder, both in the context of this discussion and in the Blue Zones report, whether “faith” is nearly as important as “community.” Humans are social primates; we need to belong. It appears from the research cited above that the potency of this need is proportionate to the level of threat perceived by the individual.
    Which raises questions about causality: Do the hierarchies that provide leadership to “faith communities” work to ameliorate the threats presented by dysfunctional societies, when those threats serve to strengthen the communities themselves? A look at, say, misogyny within organized religion suggests they do not.

  25. Neil Schipper
    Posted November 6, 2012 at 11:54 am | Permalink

    In a new piece at Pyschology Today, Barber has reprised his HuffPo piece in an essay called “Why atheism will replace religion: new evidence.“

    How can it be that no one has pointed out that this is from July 14, 2011?

  26. djockovic
    Posted November 7, 2012 at 3:06 am | Permalink

    @infiniteimprobabilit

    You say my statement makes no sense. Hardly! It’s very straightforward. If we look at the carbon footprint of countries we will see that by far the largest footprints are from the countries that are more atheistic. That is, it will be all the same (developed) countries that are identified as non-dysfuntional in Barber’s srticle. And so if we take contribution to the destruction of the environment (size of carbon footprint) as the measure of dysfunctionality (and destroying the world is pretty dysfunctional) then those countries, rather than those with, eg, high child-mortality rates, will be the most dysfunctional. And how much more dysfunctional does it get than being at war with the planet one lives on?

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted November 7, 2012 at 3:50 am | Permalink

      I’ll quote your statement: “Seems pretty clear that the destruction of the environment is largely down to atheist, and thus dysfunctional, countries.”

      First, how can a *country* be atheist?

      Secondly, consider the countries which might be destroying the environment, however you identify that. One could argue the USA is in the lead there (with probably the highest consumption per capita) – atheist? The US?
      Or would you say those countries that have the worst environmental controls – I don’t have the figures but I’d guess that might include much of Africa and the middle east – atheist?

      I won’t even bother to argue with the idiotic presumption in your phrase ‘atheist, and thus dysfunctional’. I can’t be arsed arguing your private definition of ‘dysfunctional’ with someone who doesn’t even know that the Queen is the head of the C of E…

      • djockovic
        Posted November 7, 2012 at 4:45 am | Permalink

        A country can be atheist in the sense that the people in the country are atheist. The same way, for example, that countries can be described as catholic etc. Nothing, in any event, turns on wording it this way so word it any way you like and the same point can still be made. If it can’t, then Barber can’t make his point either.

        Re your point about environemntal impact – it’s fairly clear that the developed world (ie, those countries regarded as non-dysfunctional by Barber) are the very countries which would be regarded as highly dysfunctional if negative environmental impact was the key indicator. Check out, eg, CO2 emissions, or consumption of resources, per capita and then draw up a list using Barber’s stats for atheism.

        And of course I know who the head of the CofE is. My response was what we in Scotland call, a joke. And if you knew who Alex Salmond was then: a) you would understand why I made that joke given the point was about the supposed state religion of the UK; and b) you would understand how hilarious the joke was.

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted November 8, 2012 at 12:53 am | Permalink

          I think ‘atheist country’ implies that the country is formally atheist – Soviet Russia perhaps? But even if one allows it based on a high proportion of atheists, the US for example wouldn’t be called an ‘atheist country’ by anyone on this site, much as they’d like it to be one.

          As for ‘dysfunctional’, I guess the only function of society is to allow all inhabitants to live a life which is as satisfying, comfortable and fulfilled as possible, free from oppression or suffering. So to the extent a country falls short of that, it’s dysfunctional. Now what features or statistics one chooses to use to measure ‘dysfunctionality’ is obviously open to argument.

          (Personally, I’d regard ‘unable to obtain an abortion when needed’ as a point of dysfunctionality, as I would denial of any other useful and appropriate medical procedure, whether to pander to some other party’s religious beliefs or not).

          • djockovic
            Posted November 8, 2012 at 6:45 pm | Permalink

            Would you consider destroying the environment dysfunctional? Or is it okay as long as the people are happy and contented while they’re doing it?

  27. djockovic
    Posted November 7, 2012 at 3:12 am | Permalink

    @Gary W
    I didn’t say abortion was dysfunctional because it’s only a matter of convenience. I asked whether dispatching millions for convenience was not fairly obviously dysfunctional. If you don’t like the word “convenience” then pick another, but the point remains: how can we not regard the huge number of lives snuffed out as in any way dysfunctional? And if we do count them, then the league table of dysunctionaity will look very different.

    • Gary W
      Posted November 7, 2012 at 9:42 am | Permalink

      I didn’t say abortion was dysfunctional because it’s only a matter of convenience.

      Either you believe abortion is a matter of mere “convenience” or you don’t. If you do, I think your position is absurd. If you don’t, you’re rejecting the premise of your own question.

      how can we not regard the huge number of lives snuffed out as in any way dysfunctional?

      If you think abortion is “dysfunctional” it’s up to present an argument for that claim. You should probably start by defining what you mean by “dysfunctional” in this context.

      • djockovic
        Posted November 7, 2012 at 10:57 am | Permalink

        It seems fairly obvious that high numbers of abortions, particularly, eg, teenage abortions, would be a measure of dysfunctionality. I’m not sure what kind of argument is needed for that. Isn’t it obvious?

        • Gary W
          Posted November 7, 2012 at 7:45 pm | Permalink

          It seems fairly obvious that high numbers of abortions, particularly, eg, teenage abortions, would be a measure of dysfunctionality.

          Not to me. Apparently, not to most other people either. I’m still waiting for your explanation of why you think this is “dysfunctional.” The claim seems especially bizarre in light of the obvious risks to children if they are born to mothers who don’t want them.

          • djockovic
            Posted November 7, 2012 at 8:22 pm | Permalink

            I don’t need to explain why, eg, teenage abortions are dysfunctional because that’s one of Barber’s measures, not mine. I was only presenting it as something which seemed to contradict Barber in order to see: a) whether anyone had actually bothered to read his article (seems not); and b) whether people would hotly dispute one of Barber’s claims if it was presented as if it contradicted the report you (all appear to be) so desperate to believe (seems so).

            Experiment complete. Screenshot taken.

            Cheers

            • Gary W
              Posted November 8, 2012 at 5:13 pm | Permalink

              I don’t need to explain why, eg, teenage abortions are dysfunctional because that’s one of Barber’s measures, not mine.

              I don’t see that in abstract of his paper. In any case, I’m not sure why you would expect me to accept something simply because Barber says it. Again, if YOU think a high rate of abortion is “dysfunctional” why do YOU think that? This is about the third time I’ve asked. If you don’t provide an answer this time, I’ll assume you don’t have one.

              • djockovic
                Posted November 8, 2012 at 6:28 pm | Permalink

                Did you not understand my point. My point was that I was only testing whether people here (eg, you) would object to one of the measures of dysfunction if it was presented in a way that made it seem as if it contradicted the study. You did object, thus you object to the study, thus you object to the findings you so desperately want to believe. That’s all I was trying to find out.

                (And if you don’t believe teenage abortion is one of the measures then go check out the succesful societies scale. You’ll find it there. And when I said Barber I meant to say Paul.)

                As for my view, I couldn’t give a flying something or other if abortion is considered by Paul to be a sign of dysfunction. I think the whole study is nonsense for a whole variety of reasons. But my interest here was simply to see whether anyone would agree with the measure when it was presented in the way I presented it. I took the unqualified howls of protest as a no.

              • Gary W
                Posted November 9, 2012 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

                As for my view, I couldn’t give a flying something or other if abortion is considered by Paul to be a sign of dysfunction

                Good, then you agree with us on that point.

                Still waiting for you to explain why a high abortion rate should be considered “dysfunctional.”

              • Gary W
                Posted November 9, 2012 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

                And if you don’t believe teenage abortion is one of the measures then go check out the succesful societies scale. You’ll find it there.

                Paul does not claim that teenage abortion, let alone abortion in general, is “dysfunctional.” In fact, he clearly states: “The degree to which abortion is a measure of societal pathology is controversial.”

                You also don’t seem to be able to make up your mind what exactly you consider “dysfunctional” about abortion. First you suggested it was abortion for “convenience.” Then it was a high rate of abortion. Now it’s “teenage abortion.” Which is it? Make up your mind. And then explain clearly why you think it’s “dysfunctional.”

  28. Will
    Posted November 7, 2012 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

    I’d love to do a detailed (properly weighted) analysis of these data. I’m a statistician of over 20 experience with many publications to my name…maybe the author could get in touch?

  29. Blobulon
    Posted November 7, 2012 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

    “how can we not regard the huge number of lives snuffed out as in any way dysfunctional?”
    There’s your problem. Blastocysts, zygotes, embryos, and non-viable fetuses are not lives. The woman is the life, the person, the one with bodily autonomy.
    From Wikipedia:
    In 2003, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that 26% of abortions in the United States were known to have been obtained at less than 6 weeks’ gestation, 18% at 7 weeks, 15% at 8 weeks, 4.1% at 16 through 20 weeks and 1.4% at more than 21 weeks. …
    Similarly, in England and Wales in 2006, 89% of terminations occurred at or under 12 weeks, 9% between 13 to 19 weeks, and 1.5% at or over 20 weeks.

    • djockovic
      Posted November 7, 2012 at 5:01 pm | Permalink

      Well that’s certainly one way of looking at it, but another way would be to claim that they are lives. And it’s certainly clear that not many new-borns would survive if nobody fed them, so maybe infanticide should be acceptable as well. In any event, the point here is more that which factors are counted determine which countries appear most dysfunctional. Change the factors, change the countries, change the conclusions.

      • Blobulon
        Posted November 7, 2012 at 8:28 pm | Permalink

        Newborns can be cared for by anyone, not just the mother. Equating a newborn with an embryo is intellectually dishonest. An embryo is no more a human life than is a chunk of my skin. Living human cells, but not a human being, not a life.
        An unwanted pregnancy cannot be beamed into someone else, it is just the woman’s body that can provide for it. If that woman does not want to provide for an unwanted embryo, she can have an abortion.

        The bottom line is, you find a society that has abortions to be dysfunctional. You seem to think that a clump of pluripotent cells is equal to a living, breathing, thinking, sentient human being.

        What would you have the pregnant women do? Would you force them to carry a pregnancy to term against their will? Force them to give birth? What would be the punishment for having an abortion? Why are you trying to find ways to negate women’s bodily autonomy?

        • djockovic
          Posted November 8, 2012 at 4:11 am | Permalink

          I wasn’t equating. I was pointing out that one of your criteria applied to cases you would have a different view of and thus that criterion couldn’t do the work you required of it. Thus no intellectual dishonesty there.

          What is intellectually dishonest is equating an embryo with a piece of your skin.

          And no, I don’t think that a clump of pluripotent cells is equal to a living, breathing, thinking, sentient human being. Unsure where you got that from.

          And neither am I suggesting that we force women to give birth. What I am suggesting, inasmuch as I’m suggesting anything, is that there is a moral dimension to abortion you don’t want to admit. Abortion doping, for example, seems clearly morally wrong. Yet you seem to have no way to capture that wrongness.

          Anyway, you must be aware that some view most/all abortion as morally wrong, and if they are eveb partially right (which is surely possible) then huge numbers of abortions would signify a grossly dysfunctional society. Thus the point still holds even though it is premised on something you personally disagree with. I wonder if you’ll be able to understand that point.

          • infiniteimprobabilit
            Posted November 8, 2012 at 4:30 am | Permalink

            “you must be aware that some view eating pork as morally wrong, and if they are eveb partially right (which is surely possible) then huge numbers of pork sandwiches would signify a grossly dysfunctional society.”

            There, fixed it for ya. (Substitute ‘gays’ if you prefer, the point remians the same).

            The old ‘argument from alleged public opinion’. Doesn’t hold water. Either admit to holding the opinion yourself and be prepared to defend it or stop being – what was it? – intellectually dishonest.

            • djockovic
              Posted November 8, 2012 at 4:49 am | Permalink

              Some do view eating pork as morlly wrong. Some view eating animals as morally wrong. And if we countenance, for arguments sake, the idea that there are moral truths then these things should be factored into the measure of dysfunction even if we currently think they are fine. Alternatively, if there are no moral truths then it’s hard to get any notion of dysfunction at all. For example, the Aztecs, as noted on this blog, engaged in human sacrifice on a grand scale. But that’s OK from your perspective because it was deemed morally fine within their culure. Nothing dysfuntional about that, then, unless one uses the even older “argument from I don’t like it and what I say goes”.

              • infiniteimprobabilit
                Posted November 10, 2012 at 2:43 am | Permalink

                Don’t strawman me, troll. Human sacrifice is just plain wrong because it violates the rights of the victims. Who are people. Homosexuality, gay marriage, abortion, eating pork sandwiches – not so, nobody is suffering. I won’t use the word ‘morals’ because from your perspective, morals are what some religioso says they are. I don’t give a fig for what some culture thinks is ‘moral’ or not, I certainly don’t think something is okay because some culture’s morals or religion says it is.

            • djockovic
              Posted November 8, 2012 at 4:58 am | Permalink

              And, fwiw, there’s nothing wrong with understanding that other people have opinions and may, indeed, be right. Abortion, then, it seems to me, is a live issue inasmuch as there are points on both sides to be made and considered. This is to be contrasted with your certainty that you are right on this matter – what was it? – delusions of intellectual grandeur.

  30. Blobulon
    Posted November 8, 2012 at 8:34 pm | Permalink

    “I wasn’t equating.”
    Piffle. You were making the ‘fourth trimester abortion’ fallacy.

    “equating an embryo with a piece of your skin.”
    If a chunk of my skin gets scraped off, it is about as much as an independent human life as an aborted embryo. It is a bunch of human cells, nothing more.
    Here is a picture:

    http://www.thisismyabortion.com/

    “And no, I don’t think that a clump of pluripotent cells is equal to a living, breathing, thinking, sentient human being. Unsure where you got that from.”
    Then let me remind you.
    “how can we not regard the huge number of lives snuffed out as in any way dysfunctional?”
    You seems to think that blastocysts, zygotes, embryos and pre-viable fetuses are lives.

    “And neither am I suggesting that we force women to give birth.”
    Then what to do with all those unwanted pregnancies?

    “What I am suggesting, inasmuch as I’m suggesting anything, is that there is a moral dimension to abortion you don’t want to admit.”
    What you need to realise is that you care little for the woman’s bodily autonomy.

    “Abortion doping, for example, seems clearly morally wrong”
    I don’t know what abortion doping is. I hope that was a typo.

    “Anyway, you must be aware that some view most/all abortion as morally wrong, and if they are eveb partially right (which is surely possible) then huge numbers of abortions would signify a grossly dysfunctional society. Thus the point still holds even though it is premised on something you personally disagree with. I wonder if you’ll be able to understand that point.”
    Blah blah blah, argument ad populum; blah blah blah, I agree with them but don’t have the guts to say it; blah blah blah a great big ‘if’ plus an ‘I win'; blah blah blah you’re stupid.
    Own your position on the matter. Argue the facts. Don’t give in to mental masturbation with so many if’s that the topic becomes irrelevant to real life.
    I know that an embryo is a potential human life. It is entirely dependent on a woman’s body.
    The woman’s right to bodily autonomy is not trumped by a potential life. Rather like my right to swing my fists ends where your face begins.

    “And, fwiw, there’s nothing wrong with understanding that other people have opinions and may, indeed, be right.”
    There’s hope for you yet then.

    • djockovic
      Posted November 9, 2012 at 3:37 am | Permalink

      No, abortion doping wasn’t a typo – go check it out.

      And nobody is making the fourth trimester abortion fallacy because there is no such fallacy. I might as well say you’re making the zygote fallacy. Sounds great, oh a fallacy, but sadly not.

      And it’s not the ad populum fallacy. You really shouldn’t use these technical terms when you don’t understand what they mean.

      As for owning my position on the matter, what’s that supposed to mean? More empty posturing from you.

      And so what if an embryo is dependent on a woman’s body, the rightness of abortion doesn’t just fall out of that fact as if all you need to do is take dictation.

      And our rights to bodily autonomy don’t need to come into conflict with another fully sentient person for them to be constrained. Thus not only punches, but also, eg, necrophilia.

  31. djockovic
    Posted November 9, 2012 at 6:01 pm | Permalink

    @ Gary W
    If he doesn’t think teenage abortion is a measure of dysfynction then why does he go on to use it as such? He clearly counts it, so it’s hard to see how you cannot accept this.

    It’s not hard actually, it’s because you are desperate.

  32. Blobulon
    Posted November 9, 2012 at 10:01 pm | Permalink

    djockovic, I’m going to ignore your flailing commentary above for now and ask you two easy questions.
    Do you think abortion is wrong?
    Do you think forced birth is right?

  33. djockovic
    Posted November 10, 2012 at 2:21 am | Permalink

    It wasn’t flailing. It was all over the place becuase I had to respond to your rambling scattergun nonsense.

    Anyway, no I don’t think forced birth is right in many cases. But I don’t think forced parenthood is right either, fwiw. And yes I think abortion is wrong, but in many cases it will be the lesser of two evils.

    This contrasts with your all or nothing view where you can see no negative moral aspect to abortion at all.

    Now, here are two questions for you:

    Is necrophilia wrong? Is abortion doping wrong?

    • Blobulon
      Posted November 10, 2012 at 9:56 pm | Permalink

      Finally, some straight answers. Thank you.

      • djockovic
        Posted November 11, 2012 at 3:54 am | Permalink

        None you understand though, and none from you either.

  34. Posted December 24, 2012 at 10:08 am | Permalink

    “…the more dysfunctional a society, the more religious it is….”

    I do believe that one statement sums it up perfectly.

    Excellent post!

  35. Posted February 27, 2013 at 10:48 pm | Permalink

    I have been browsing online more than 4 hours today, yet I
    never found any interesting article like yours.
    It is pretty worth enough for me. Personally, if all webmasters and bloggers made good content as
    you did, the web will be much more useful than ever before.

  36. Shelly
    Posted July 8, 2013 at 4:53 pm | Permalink

    Atheism is a type of (non) religious belief, is it not? It has a central theme, fundamental morality, and it takes a certain amount of faith or strong belief without definitive proof, that science has all the answers.

    Theories are ideals without definitive proof.

    Theorums have been proven.

    Evolution is still a theory.

    Even the theory of relativity is still a theory.

    There are programs, documents, and people professing atheism with vigor, and getting into arguments over whether it’s a valid idea with others who have similar or differing ideas.

    There are even organizations that promote and try to recruit people to their way of thinking that are atheistic based.

    A true atheist wouldn’t participate in propaganda, because to them, it is evident to the observer.

    • jimroberts
      Posted July 9, 2013 at 2:54 am | Permalink

      Thank you for your post. Atheists are always grateful when a believer is kind enough to put us right about what we believe.

      So, fellow atheists, listen up: we have all been wrong in thinking that there are open problems in science. All the research scientists can pack up and go home: there is nothing left for them to find out.

    • gbjames
      Posted July 9, 2013 at 5:29 am | Permalink

      A christian walks into a room of atheists….

      oh, hell, this joke isn’t even worth bothering with.

      No, Shelly. atheism is not a type of belief. It is a conclusion.

      Jebus, this ignorant nonsense is tiresome.

    • Posted July 9, 2013 at 6:03 am | Permalink

      Atheism is a type of (non) religious belief, is it not?

      It is not. It is, no more and no less, a lack of belief in any gods. Assuming you’re a Christian, your stance towards every non-Christian pantheon (Hindu, the Olympians, aboriginal, etc.) is exactly the same as an atheist’s stance towards the Christian pantheon: “Wait — you mean you actually believe that shit is seriously true? How old are you?”

      It has a central theme,

      Only in the sense that a bald person has an hair color.

      fundamental morality,

      While most atheists I know are moral and upstanding individuals, and many have a similar moral perspective to mine, morality is not and cannot be derived from a lack of acceptance of primitive superstition. We are moral beings, yes, but our morality derives not from some sort of ancient faery tale or some charlatan’s “revealed” dogma, but rather first principles as we have individually come to identify and understand them (for those of us who have put serious thought into the matter) or from societal norms (for the vast majority of atheists).

      and it takes a certain amount of faith or strong belief without definitive proof, that science has all the answers.

      First, it takes no more faith for me to not believe in your gods than it takes you to not believe in Santa Claus or Quetzalcoatl or the monsters under your bed.

      Second, all the theological arguments for the necessity of gods I’ve ever encountered are as incoherent as arguments for the necessity of a location north of the North Pole. I can’t even figure out what sort of “there” there’s supposed to be there, so how can faith have any bearing? If the theologians would talk sense instead of gibberish, I might be able to stop laughing at them…but all they do is moan and blather about married bachelors.

      And, last…science most emphatically doesn’t have all the answers. To pick a current hot topic, we don’t know what dark matter is, what holds galaxies together. (But there are some exciting new discoveries in the news hinting at possible answers.)

      However, science is the only method that has ever provided answers.

      Nobody ever figured anything out just by believing hard enough about it. Knowledge has only ever advanced by going out and comparing beliefs against observations and revising said beliefs until they’re consistent with observation — and that’s all that science is, when it comes right down to it.

      Faith, on the other hand, consists of revising observation — or, at least, perception of observation — so it comports with belief. It’s a lie, and it’s utterly reprehensible.

      You wouldn’t have faith in the used care salesman that the car he’s trying to sell you is a real cherry; you’d have an independent mechanic whom you trust check it out (if you couldn’t perform the inspection yourself). Yet the religious have faith that what their pastors tell them about some obscure anthology of millennia-old superstitious bullshit and that it has some sort of transcendental relevance to modernity — and they do so uncritically, because they have faith that they’re not being taken to the cleaners.

      You only have faith in those scams you’ve already fallen for. In all other matters, you’re in full agreement with the meme: Science. It works, bitches.

      Cheers,

      b&

  37. Posted April 6, 2014 at 8:29 pm | Permalink

    “You can’t just say there’s a God because the world is beautiful.
    You have to account for bone cancer in children.
    You have to account for the fact that almost all animals in the wild live under stress, with not enough to eat, and will die violent and bloody deaths.
    There is not any way that you can just choose the nice bits, and say that means there is a God, and ignore the true fact of what nature is.
    The wonder of nature must be taken in its totality.”
    – Stephen Fry


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