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Why are better educated people less religious?

 
 
Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Mon 7 May, 2007 08:43 am
Given that the survey to which the author refers states that 90% of the population of the United States believe in a deity, it would only require 89% of "well educated" people believing in a deity to have "less" (bad, bad English--fewer people) defined as religious.

But there are a host of problems with the contention. How was the 90% figure arrived at? Was exactly the same methodology applied to those defined as "well educated?" How was the survey of "scientists" conducted? (One famous survey of this type was based upon a reader survey, which is anything but a reliable statistical method, because the sample is "self-selected" and therefore uncontrolled and suspect.) What is the definition of "religious," and was the same definition used in surveys which were correlated? (Unless Scientific American is stating that an identical survey was applied to the general population, as well as to "scientists," in which case the methodology is only reliable if a plausible effort was made to find a representative sample of all groups surveyed.) As JPB points out, why are only "scientists" described as being well educated people? Are not people with Doctor of Philosophy degrees in literature, fine arts, history, performing arts, languages, etc., to be considered well educated? What criterion determined if someone were to be described as a scientist? (In the survey referred to above, in which 45% of people who were described as scientists claimed to believe in a deity--the magazine survey--people such as dieticians and sociologists were defined as scientists, a definition with which physicists and molecular biologists might be likely to disagree.)

Finally, there are a host of problems with the interpretation of data. If 90% of the population of the United States declare that they believe in a diety, or, more likely, simply identify themselves as participants in one or another sect of a religion, is it reasonable to describe them as religious? Referring again to the magazine survey, religionists like to cite it as demonstrating that 45% of "scientists" believe in a theistic creation, whereas the survey question simply asked in the respondents believe in a deity, which is not at all the same as stating that one believes that there was a theistic creation, and is not specific to at what point such a creation occurred (the creation of the cosmos? a specific creation of mankind?), and at what point evolutionary processes might be reasonable assumed to have taken over.

This sort of thing is always a mine field. There is far too much fuzzy thinking going on in such efforts, whether it is a militant atheist attempting to "prove" that "scientists" are not religious, or a theist attempting to "prove" that "scientists" believe in a creation. Very bad effort on the part of the Scientific American, i suspect.
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stlstrike3
 
  1  
Reply Mon 7 May, 2007 10:46 am
I have seen some excellent points brought up in terms of evaluating study design. As I am a scientist (I think all physicians should consider themselves firstmost scientists) I have not ruled out the possibility of studying the phenomenon myself.

A few clarifying points, some of which have been addressed:

The concept of statistical significance.

In order to say that one outcome is "less" likely than another, you have to demonstrate that the difference observed in the study cannot be chalked up to chance. You can take a phenomenon that has a known 50-50 chance (like flipping a coin) and get different numbers. You may flip the coin 100 times, but you are likely to get a result different than 50 "heads" and 50 "tails". (It may be 53 and 47). My point is, there are equations that inform us when we are in the territory of finding a true difference, and simply observing variability. I would need more information to do the math, but you need more of a difference than 89% vs. 90% of respondants to call it "significant". The more people you study, (20 vs. 20,000), the less of a % difference you need in order to satisfy the definition of statistical significance.

The definition of educated.

I'd be intensely interested in hearing your thoughts on this. I would love to see a well-done study looking at High School Diploma attainment, G.E.D. attainment, bachelor's attainment, master's attainment, doctorate attainment, J.D. attainment, M.D. attainment, etc., plotted against religiosity Since one of the key battlegrounds for theism vs. atheism is the creationism vs. evolutionist debate, it would stand to reason that discerning a difference between the two would be enhanced by looking at scientific education.

The definition of religious.

Again, I understand the problematic nature of this definition. But in similar fashion, I would love to see all these questions asked:

1) Do you believe in a personal god who answers prayers and intervenes in human affairs?

2) Do you attend weekly services?

3) What religion do you practice, if any?

4) Do you believe President Bush was correct when he said that God told him to invade Iraq? (I'm kidding... I don't think I want to know the answer to that question.

My point in asking this question was to have people bring to the table evidence in support or in refute of my question. And then have those willing evaluate that evidence objectively.

I realize that I have my own biases... but I'm confident enough in my opinions to allow them the harshest of scrutiny.
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JPB
 
  1  
Reply Mon 7 May, 2007 11:14 am
stlstrike3 wrote:

1) Do you believe in a personal god who answers prayers and intervenes in human affairs?

2) Do you attend weekly services?

3) What religion do you practice, if any?

4) Do you believe President Bush was correct when he said that God told him to invade Iraq? (I'm kidding... I don't think I want to know the answer to that question.

My point in asking this question was to have people bring to the table evidence in support or in refute of my question. And then have those willing evaluate that evidence objectively.

I realize that I have my own biases... but I'm confident enough in my opinions to allow them the harshest of scrutiny.


Ah, so you're stating your hypothesis and you want us to do your research for you by supplying the evidence Laughing

Just kidding... I have no idea if your hypothesis is correct or not, although I wouldn't be surprised if it is. Particularly as it relates to scientific education compared to the general population, which goes back to soz's point that it's natural for scientists to be skeptics in a number of areas. From your questions, how would you differentiate scientists who were irreligious before becoming scientists from those who became irreligious after receiving a scientific education?

Oh, and welcome to A2K, stlstrike3.
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Phoenix32890
 
  1  
Reply Mon 7 May, 2007 11:30 am
Quote:
2) Do you attend weekly services?

3) What religion do you practice, if any?


stlstrike3 - Some excellent thoughts. The problem with your questions 2 & 3 is that they are very subjective. The reasons that people attend weekly services are very subjective, and many have different meanings for each individual.

As far as what is "practicing" a religion, that too, is open to individual interpretation. I think that there needs to be a definition as to what constitutes practicing a religion, to what extent and intensity, with some objective parameters.

I have found this little test interesting, if not terribly scientific.:

http://www.beliefnet.com/story/76/story_7665_1.html
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sozobe
 
  1  
Reply Mon 7 May, 2007 11:33 am
Phoenix32890 wrote:
[color]As far as what is "practicing" a religion, that too, is open to individual interpretation. I think that there needs to be a definition as to what constitutes practicing a religion, to what extent and intensity, with some objective parameters.[/color]


Anyone who practices a religion, at all, has to be said to be religious though, yes?

I guess the exception is when culture and religion overlap. If I put up a Christmas tree, is that practicing religion in and of itself?
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Phoenix32890
 
  1  
Reply Mon 7 May, 2007 11:37 am
Quote:
Anyone who practices a religion, at all, has to be said to be religious though, yes?


I don't think that one can look at this question as an all or nothing issue. I think that their are many shades of gray. There are people who follow the tenets of their faith without question, while others, although embracing a certain religion, will take an "a la carte" attitude.
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Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Mon 7 May, 2007 11:41 am
Stlstrike3, your response does not at all address the methodology of the Scientific American "study" to which you originally referred. Additionally, you've change the ground, you have gone from "religious" to "religiosity." That just confuses the issue, it does nothing to clarify matters. It is nice that you have been so specific about what question you would like to see asked. But now you have the problem that you have abandoned the source to which you originally referred, so we have no basis now to assume that it is correct for you to assert that well educated people are "less religious" than those who are not well educated.
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sozobe
 
  1  
Reply Mon 7 May, 2007 11:42 am
I understand, but in the "religious or not religious" question, it seems like someone who says they practice a religion would be religious -- whether very religious or slightly religious.
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stlstrike3
 
  1  
Reply Mon 7 May, 2007 11:43 am
Phoenix32890 wrote:
Quote:
2) Do you attend weekly services?

3) What religion do you practice, if any?


stlstrike3 - Some excellent thoughts. The problem with your questions 2 & 3 is that they are very subjective. The reasons that people attend weekly services are very subjective, and many have different meanings for each individual.

As far as what is "practicing" a religion, that too, is open to individual interpretation. I think that there needs to be a definition as to what constitutes practicing a religion, to what extent and intensity, with some objective parameters.

I have found this little test interesting, if not terribly scientific.:

http://www.beliefnet.com/story/76/story_7665_1.html



Hmm.... well here's what *I* got. Very Happy

1. Secular Humanism (100%)
2. Unitarian Universalism (92%)
3. Liberal Quakers (77%)
4. Theravada Buddhism (74%)
5. Nontheist (74%)
6. Neo-Pagan (64%)
7. Mainline to Liberal Christian Protestants (64%)
8. New Age (55%)
9. Taoism (54%)
10. Reform Judaism (49%)
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JPB
 
  1  
Reply Mon 7 May, 2007 11:48 am
Historically, most of the skeptics on this forum tend to come up as either secular humanists or UU on that test.

I saw somewhere where religions are broken out by education level -- I'll try to find it. As I recall, UUs are the highest, on average. They're also the wealthiest.
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Phoenix32890
 
  1  
Reply Mon 7 May, 2007 11:48 am
1- Secular Humanism (100%)
2. Unitarian Universalism (93%)
3. Nontheist (83%)
4. Theravada Buddhism (76%)
5. Liberal Quakers (69%)
6. Neo-Pagan (61%)
7. Mainline to Liberal Christian Protestants (55%)
8. Taoism (47%)
9. New Age (41%)
10. Reform Judaism (39%)
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ossobuco
 
  1  
Reply Mon 7 May, 2007 11:58 am
Whassa difference between a secular humanist and a nontheist? (a tangent, I suppose)
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Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Mon 7 May, 2007 12:02 pm
ossobuco wrote:
Whassa difference between a secular humanist and a nontheist? (a tangent, I suppose)


Whether or not they think they can get any money out of you.
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JPB
 
  0  
Reply Mon 7 May, 2007 12:08 pm
This might be what you're looking for, stlstrike3

Quote:
In the United States, religious attendance rises sharply with education across individuals, but religious attendance declines sharply with education across denominations. This puzzle is explained if education both increases the returns to social connection and reduces the extent of religious belief. The positive effect of education on sociability explains the positive education-religion relationship. The negative effect of education on religious belief causes more educated individuals to sort into less fervent religions, which explains the negative relationship between education and religion across denominations. Cross-country differences in the impact of education on religious belief can explain the large cross-country variation in the education-religion connection. These cross-country differences in the education-belief relationship can be explained by political factors (such as communism) which lead some countries to use state-controlled education to discredit religion. source
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JPB
 
  1  
Reply Mon 7 May, 2007 12:13 pm
ossobuco wrote:
Whassa difference between a secular humanist and a nontheist? (a tangent, I suppose)


Quote:
Secular Humanism is a non-theistically based philosophy which promotes humanity as the measure of all things. It had its roots in the rationalism of the 18th Century and the free thought movement of the 19th Century.

Some factors that most Humanists share:

Either they do not believe in the existence of a deity, or they don't really care about the topic.

They believe that excellent codes of behavior and morality can be created through reason.

Humans created the Gods and Goddesses in their own image.

They are very concerned about human rights and equal opportunities for all.

They tend to be at the liberal end of the spectrum on such controversial topics as abortion access; equal rights for gays, lesbians and bisexuals; same-sex marriage, physician assisted suicide, separation of church and state, etc.
religioustolerance.org
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JPB
 
  1  
Reply Mon 7 May, 2007 12:14 pm
oops, forgot to add the other side of osso's question. A nontheist is necessarily concerned with humanity. A secular humanist is.
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stlstrike3
 
  1  
Reply Mon 7 May, 2007 12:22 pm
JPB wrote:
This might be what you're looking for, stlstrike3

Quote:
In the United States, religious attendance rises sharply with education across individuals, but religious attendance declines sharply with education across denominations. This puzzle is explained if education both increases the returns to social connection and reduces the extent of religious belief. The positive effect of education on sociability explains the positive education-religion relationship. The negative effect of education on religious belief causes more educated individuals to sort into less fervent religions, which explains the negative relationship between education and religion across denominations. Cross-country differences in the impact of education on religious belief can explain the large cross-country variation in the education-religion connection. These cross-country differences in the education-belief relationship can be explained by political factors (such as communism) which lead some countries to use state-controlled education to discredit religion. source


Sadly, that website wants me to pay for a copy of that paper... which I may do, as I really do want to see raw data, numbers, methods, etc.

But this is now getting into the issue of what do you consider religious? Going to church? Or actually believing what the preacher says (and consequently voting the way he/she believes you should)?

I hesitate to mention this here, but my keen interest is in showing that education will innoculate individuals from hamstringing scientific/societal progress by allowing intellect/reason/knowledge to override the religious orders the vast majority of "the faithful" receive to vote down things like stem-cell research and protection of the rights of different lifestyles (a discussion for another thread altogether).
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ossobuco
 
  1  
Reply Mon 7 May, 2007 12:39 pm
Because of their wording, I used non applicable for questions I do have opinions on.

.



1. Nontheist (100%)
2. Secular Humanism (100%)
3. Unitarian Universalism (86%)
4. Theravada Buddhism (65%)
5. Liberal Quakers (49%)
6. Neo-Pagan (29%)
7. Mainline to Liberal Christian Protestants (26%)
8. Taoism (16%)
9. New Age (8%)
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JPB
 
  1  
Reply Mon 7 May, 2007 12:40 pm
JPB wrote:
oops, forgot to add the other side of osso's question. A nontheist is necessarily concerned with humanity. A secular humanist is.


sorry, osso -- I can't correct my typo here... the nontheist "ISN'T" necessarily concerned with humanity, but a secular humanist IS.
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ossobuco
 
  1  
Reply Mon 7 May, 2007 12:44 pm
I knew you meant that!
I entered my last post by mistake before finishing it.

Anyway, I pretty much subscribe to secular humanism, though I don't aver that humanity is the measure of all things, and don't think of it as my Faith Category.

So, anecdotal polka dot - I have a scientific background but don't consider myself a scientist.
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