Putting a New Atheist Talking Point to the Test

We are often told that the world would be a vastly better place if only we could get rid of religion, as religion is supposed to be responsible for all kinds of miseries and harm (as AC Grayling just insisted).   I think this is wishful thinking propped up by confirmation bias, largely because the New Atheist cyber-world is clearly no better than any cyber-community of religious people.

Sometimes, people try to compare whole nations to answer this question, but there are so many different and uncontrolled variables when making such comparisons that I think such analyses are essentially meaningless.   Instead, I think it would be more meaningful to compare different cities from the same nation with similar demographics, but differing degrees of religiosity.

Lucky for us, Gallop has finished a survey that looks at the religiosity of many different metro areas across the country.  It turns out the most religious area in the USA is Provo-Orem, UT, where 77.2% of inhabitants were highly religious and 12.7% were non-religious.  The least religious area was Burlington, VT, where 17.2% were highly religious and 63.8% were non-religious.

What’s nice is that both areas have very similar demographics according to Wikipedia, even to the point of the median family income being essentially identical.

Burlington:  As of the census of 2010, there were 42,417 people residing in the city. The racial makeup of the city was 88.9% White, 3.9% Black or African American, 0.3% Native American, 3.6% Asian, and 2.6% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 2.7% of the population.There were 16,851 households and the average number of persons per household was 2.13.

As of the census of 2000, the median income for a household in the city was $33,070, and the median income for a family was $46,012.

Orem: As of the census of 2010, there were 526,810 people, 143,695 households, and 116,844 families residing within the MSA. The racial makeup of the MSA was 89.5% White, 0.5% African American, 0.6% Native American, 1.3% Asian, 0.7% Pacific Islander, 4.6% from other races, and 2.7% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 10.7% of the population.

As of the census of 2000, median income for a household in the MSA was $41,986, and the median income for a family was $46,426.

So let’s compare.  If New Atheist claims about the bad influence of religion are correct, we would expect Orem, UT to have much higher crime rates that Burlington, VT.  To test this “religion-is-bad” hypothesis, I went to city-data.com to get the crime index for both areas (where the higher number means more crime).

Burlington 

Orem

The plotted results are below the fold (with crime index values on Y-axis).

crime data

Looks like the New Atheist hypothesis in some serious trouble.  Despite the fact that Orem has 10 times the population of Burlington, it’s crime index rate is consistently much lower than that of Burlington.  Furthemore, what if we compare the incidence of sex offenders?

  • The ratio of number of residents in Orem to the number of sex offenders is 814 to 1. The number of registered sex offenders compared to the number of residents in this city is smaller than the state average.
  • The ratio of number of residents in Burlington to the number of sex offenders is 577 to 1. The number of registered sex offenders compared to the number of residents in this city is near the state average.

So the non-religious metro area has a higher incidence of sex offenders.

Now, unlike the New Atheists, I am not going to try and make the case here that a higher incidence of non-religiosity is correlated with higher crime and sex offender rates.  But what I will say is this – the New Atheist talking point about religion being the cause of “miseries and harm” is certainly not supported by these empirical data.

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7 Responses to Putting a New Atheist Talking Point to the Test

  1. Twix says:

    I actually find it bizarre that people can truly believe that violence would go down if there were no religious beliefs. Do these people honestly believe stuff like gang violence and the 45 murders committed every day in the U.S. are all caused by differing religious opinions?

    I also find it sad that there are people who truly think religion is the root cause of all wars. As if hundreds of thousands of people would willingly risk their lives simply because someone in power told them “Hey, these other people are friendly and not trying to invade us or anything, but they believe in a different god, so lets all go die fighting over it.”

    Vox Day did a good job debunking the “religion is the cause of war” myth in his free book, The Irrational Atheist. http://www.voxday.net/mart/TIA_free.pdf

  2. Crude says:

    Let me second the recommendation for Vox’s book. What’s unique about it is that he specifically dealt with the historical and cultural claims the Cult of Gnu leadership were making, and absolutely sliced them to ribbons.

  3. Reblogged this on FideCogitActio : omnis per gratiam and commented:
    But of course facts aren’t what drives the New Atheism! It’s about an ehtos of outrage, arguably a compensation device for secular white males who want their turn up to bat against the influence of Christianity, an influence which renders them an awkward minority compared to the multi-ethnic, family-centered, and doggedly religious majority of humans. White Outrage against The Man (in the sky).

  4. Sparks says:

    No, the only reason non-religious areas are more violent is – believe it or not – because of religious influence. Religious influence has, unfortunately, been continuously seeping into the minds of the non-religious via culture, and the non-religious have a harder time coping with the consequent cognitive dissonance of religious ideas than do religious people. Additionally, they are massively frustrated by the mindless acquiescence of humanity in being slaves to silly superstition, and the resultant arrest of human progress. It’s no surprise then that they act out more. In a godless society, the non-religious would almost invariably be the preachers of peace, but in a religious world, they are marginalized and feel alienated, and therefore act out.

  5. Sparks says:

    You all have caged the sparrow and have put it on a diet of dog food, and when after a while the poor bird begins thrashing against the fetters, you content yourselves with saying, “Oh, look at what violent creatures birds are!” This is disingenuous. The creature simply longs for its world to be made right again.

  6. Mika says:

    FORMATTING IN MY PREVIOUS COMMENT WAS OFF — PLEASE MODERATE.

    @Sparks: I am assuming your reply takes itself seriously and this is an actual argument.

    “No, the only reason non-religious areas are more violent is – believe it or not – because of religious influence. ”

    OK.

    “In a godless society, the non-religious would almost invariably be the preachers of peace, but in a religious world, they are marginalized and feel alienated, and therefore act out.”

    What I would like to ask is this: how do you warrant these claims? Is there evidence on the prevalence of religious ideas frustrating the ir-religious into “acting out”? And yes: I consider myself well-read in the New Atheism-genre, so the anecdotal “evidence” presented there does not qualify IMHO.

    “The creature simply longs for its world to be made right again.”

    I would like to ask you about “the right” and “again”. What is it about the world that makes it “right” — and, assuming, that it is wrong as is? What is the foundation for making such judgements? Implied by the “again”: has it been it that right state at some point in time?

  7. Twix says:

    “You all have caged the sparrow and have put it on a diet of dog food, and when after a while the poor bird begins thrashing against the fetters, you content yourselves with saying, “Oh, look at what violent creatures birds are!” This is disingenuous. The creature simply longs for its world to be made right again.”

    I found your analogy amusing, as abandoned house sparrows are commonly raised on a diet consisting mainly of dog (or cat) food. These sparrows grow to be friendly, docile creatures and are often kept as pets.

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