09/28/2005: Late to the party again, alas.....
The blogosphere is apparently atwitter over a study showing that the benefits of having a majority of declared religious believers are highly exaggerated, at best. The conclusion of the study, in academese:
The United States’ deep social problems are all the more disturbing because the nation enjoys exceptional per capita wealth among the major western nations (Barro and McCleary; Kasman; PEW; UN Development Programme, 2000, 2004). Spending on health care is much higher as a portion of the GDP and per capita, by a factor of a third to two or more, than in any other developing democracy (UN Development Programme, 2000, 2004). The U.S. is therefore the least efficient western nation in terms of converting wealth into cultural and physical health. Understanding the reasons for this failure is urgent, and doing so requires considering the degree to which cause versus effect is responsible for the observed correlations between social conditions and religiosity versus secularism. It is therefore hoped that this initial look at a subject of pressing importance will inspire more extensive research on the subject. Pressing questions include the reasons, whether theistic or non-theistic, that the exceptionally wealthy U.S. is so inefficient that it is experiencing a much higher degree of societal distress than are less religious, less wealthy prosperous democracies. Conversely, how do the latter achieve superior societal health while having little in the way of the religious values or institutions? There is evidence that within the U.S. strong disparities in religious belief versus acceptance of evolution are correlated with similarly varying rates of societal dysfunction, the strongly theistic, anti-evolution south and mid-west having markedly worse homicide, mortality, STD, youth pregnancy, marital and related problems than the northeast where societal conditions, secularization, and acceptance of evolution approach European norms (Aral and Holmes; Beeghley, Doyle, 2002). It is the responsibility of the research community to address controversial issues and provide the information that the citizens of democracies need to chart their future courses.The Short Form:
Japan and a number of European democracies have low rates of declared "religiousness" and a high degree of "secularization", and they also score highly on quantifiable indicators of societal health.There's quite a bit of discussion out there about the study, and unfortunately I don't have the time and space to deal with it now, but I did like an Australian philosopher's pointer to some observations of David Hume:
The United States has a much higher rate of declared "religiousness" and much lower rate of "secularization", and scores poorly on quantifiable indicators of societal health.
In addition, within the U.S. a similar pattern emerges: those regions within the U.S. which score higher in declared "religiousness" and lower in "secularization" score more poorly on quantifiable indicators of societal health than those regions within the U.S. where there are lower rates of declared "religiousness" and higher rates of "secularization".
Conclusion: There's no correlation between how religious a society is, and how healthy that society is.
How happens it then...if vulgar superstition be so salutary to society, that all history abounds so much with accounts of its pernicious consequences on public affairs?
Factions, civil wars, persecutions, subversions of government, oppression, slavery; these are the dismal consequences which always attend its prevalency over the minds of men.
If the religious spirit be ever mentioned in any historical narration, we are sure to meet afterwards with a detail of the miseries which attend it. And no period of time can be happier or more prosperous, than those in which it is never regarded or heard of.
--Hume, Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, XII, 220
Len on 09.28.05 @ 08:09 PM CST