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 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 did 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).
The plotted results are below the fold (with crime index values on Y-axis).
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.
[originally posted in 3/3/13]